Russia's Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft blasted off for the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan late Wednesday with a U.S., Russian and Japanese crew that carried with them an unlit ceremonial Olympic torch destined for the opening of the Winter Games in Sochi in early February.
The capsule with Rick Mastracchio, Mikhail Tyurin and Koichi Wakata, of NASA, Roscosmos and JAXA, lifted off at 11:14 p.m., EST, or Thursday at 10:14 a.m., local time, on an express six hour, four orbit trajectory that should lead to an automated docking with the station's Russian segment on Thursday at 5:31 a.m., EST.
"Everything is fine," Tyurin reported moments after the launching. "The launch was pretty smooth."
"Good luck to you guys," said Russia's Mission Control. "Have a good flight."
Within 15 minutes of the launching, the three men had settled into orbit, with solar arrays and communications antennas deployed.
The newcomers expect to be greeted at the ISS by six Expedition 37 crew members, commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy, all of Russia; NASA's Karen Nyberg and Mike Hopkins; as well as the European Space Agency's Luca Parmitano.
The newcomers will pass the unlit Olympic torch to Kotov and Ryazanskiy on Saturday for the ceremonial portion of a spacewalk.
Late Sunday, the torch will join Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano aboard their Soyuz TM-09M, as they depart the space station and descend to Earth for a landing in Kazakhstan. The descent will end a 5 1/2 month mission for the three astronauts.
Command of the station will shift from Yurchikhin to Kotov as the TM-09M crew leaves the station.