A Russian rocket carrying two Russians and an American has taken off from a launch pad in Kazakhstan, bound for the International Space Station (ISS).
Russian space agency Roskosmos expects the Soyuz 2.1a rocket with cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei aboard to reach the orbiting ISS about three hours after liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Four Americans, two Russians, and a Japanese national are currently manning the ISS.
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Three of them being relieved by the incoming trio will return to Earth in about a week’s time.
The next planned mission to the ISS is a rocket owned by the private U.S. company SpaceX that is scheduled to set out late this month for the ISS from Florida.
The Soyuz 2.1a rocket carrying the three men into space on April 9 has been named the Yuri Gagarin in honor of the Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to reach space 60 years ago next week.
Gagarin orbited the Earth once on April 12, 1961, after taking off from the same Kazakh facility at the height of the U.S.-Soviet space race.
Russia’s government this month extended a space cooperation agreement with the United States until 2030, one of the few remaining partnerships between Moscow and Washington amid frosty relations.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved and signed the extension on April 3.
The original cooperation agreement, signed in 1992 and extended four times previously, laid the groundwork for wide-ranging, space-related projects and research between NASA and Roskosmos.
Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters
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