The Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft blasts off from its launch pad at Baikonur cosmodrome.

Soyuz craft blasts off to ISS

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three crew has blasted off for a half-year stay at the International Space Station.

Three minutes into the flight, the crew members gave a thumbs-up signal to a camera on board the Russian-made capsule. An anchor inside Mission Control outside Moscow told assembled scientists and students that the three astronauts were feeling well.

The trio will berth early on Wednesday, joining Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, Nasa's Don Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers aboard the ISS, a $100 billion research complex orbiting about 240 miles above Earth.

Since the retirement of the space shuttles last year, the United States is dependent on Russia to fly astronauts to the ISS, which costs the nation $60 million per person.

Moscow hopes a smooth mission will begin to restore confidence in its once-pioneering space programme after a string of launch mishaps last year, including the failure of a mission touted as post-Soviet Russia's interplanetary debut.

Tuesday's flight was delayed from March 30 to allow Russia's partly state-owned space contractor, RKK Energia, to prepare a new capsule for launch after an accident during pressure tests damaged the Soyuz crew capsule.

The previous crew of three at the ISS returned from the station in late April, following a delay due to safety fears after an unmanned Russian Progress craft taking supplies to the station broke up in the atmosphere in August.

That was one of five botched launches last year that marred celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin's first human space flight, including a long-awaited unmanned mission to return samples from the Martian moon Phobos.

The crew will immediately begin preparation for the arrival next week of privately owned SpaceX's Dragon Capsule. It will be the first time a private company has launched space station supplies.

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