The Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off on schedule at 1322GMT, soaring into a darkening sky above the Kazakh steppe. It was topped by a spacecraft that is to deliver U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Malaysian physician, to the orbital station in about two days.
Whitson, of Beaconsfield, Iowa, is to be the first woman to command the international space station. Sheikh Muszaphar, a 35-year-old orthopedic surgeon, is to spend about 10 days on the station as the first Malaysian in space, performing experiments involving diseases and the effects of microgravity and space radiation on cells and genes.
His parents watched the liftoff from an observation area, praying and in tears.
Whitson and Malenchenko are to replace two of the station's current crew, cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov, who are due to return to Earth along with Sheikh Muszaphar.