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Spaceship Launches With Cosmonaut, Two Astronauts -- And A Soccer Ball

NASA astronauts Andrew Feustel (center) and Richard Arnold (left) as well as Roskosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev wave from a bus shortly before leaving to board the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft in Kazakhstan on March 21.

A Russian cosmonaut, two U.S. astronauts, and a soccer ball set to be used in the soccer World Cup in Russia have blasted off for a two-day flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

A Soyuz MS-08 spaceship lifted off from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan at 11:44 p.m. local time on March 21 with Roskosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev and NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold.

NASA said its astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev were now "safely in orbit."

The men will orbit the Earth for about two days before docking with the ISS on March 23. Once aboard the ISS, they will join NASA's Scott Tingle, space station commander Anton Shkaplero, and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency already aboard the craft.

Artemyev is taking a soccer ball to the ISS that is expected to be used during the opening match of the 2018 World Cup tournament scheduled for June 14 in Moscow.

Shkaplerov is expected to take the ball back to Earth when he returns two weeks before the match.

Earlier on March 21, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson agreed with a lawmaker who said that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the World Cup as a "PR exercise" just like Adolf Hitler used the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, Interfax, and NASA