MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian spacecraft carrying two cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut to the international space station lifted off early on Friday from Russia's launch site in Kazakhstan.
Alexander Kaleri, Oleg Skripochka and Scott Kelly are to join three other crew members on the orbital station after a two-day trip from Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-01M, an upgraded model of a Soviet-designed standby.
In live footage on Russian state television, the rocket blasted off on schedule at 0511 local time (2311 GMT Thursday) from its launch pad at the Baikonur facility.
"Everything is in order on board," veteran cosmonaut Kaleri, strapped in with his two crewmates, reported to Russian Mission Control a few minutes into the flight as rocket stages dropped off. The craft soon entered orbit.
"I wish you every success," Russian space agency chief Anatoly Perminov told the crew.
Kaleri is on his fifth space flight and Skripochka his first. Kelly has visited the international space station twice on U.S. shuttle missions.
They are to spend six months aboard the station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations that has been under construction about 220 miles above Earth since 1998.
The growing orbital complex, a mix of mostly Russian and American-built modules, can now accommodate a six-member crew at all times. Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker have been aboard since June.
Construction of the orbital outpost will be finished following U.S. space shuttle missions in November and February. Single-use Soyuz craft will have to ferry all crews to the station after the U.S. space agency NASA retires its shuttle fleet next year.
(Reporting by Steve Gutterman; editing by David Stamp)