- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 19, 2012

BAIKONUR, KAZAKHSTAN (AP) - A Soyuz spacecraft carrying an American, a Russian and a Canadian headed Wednesday for the International Space Station, where they will spend four months carrying out dozens of experiments.

The spacecraft launched from a Russian-leased manned-space facility in the frigid steppes of Kazakhstan at 6:12 p.m. (1212 GMT). It took off atop a towering Russian rocket and went into orbit about 15 minutes later.

American Tom Marshburn, Russian Roman Romanenko and Canadian Chris Hadfield will travel for two days in the capsule, before docking with the mammoth space station where three other people are already on board.

Russian Federal Space Agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said the liftoff took place “without a hitch.”

“We have finished off this year of launches on a good and handsome note. There is now only one operation left, and that is the docking, which we are positive we successfully take place Friday,” he said.

The docking’s timing _ so close to Christmas _ added to the high emotional valence of spaceflight for Hadfield. “There are certain times of the year and certain times in life that are special by everybody’s traditions. In my family’s tradition, this is maybe the most special time of the year,” he said.

The clear azure skies afforded a vivid view of the rocket as it took off, left a deep plume of white smoke and finally vanished into the distance as a vivid orange dot.

Among those watching was Hadfield’s daughter, Kristian. “I’m feeling so happy. I mean, my dad just went to space. It’s amazing. I’m feeling amazing,” she said.

The International Space Station is the biggest orbiting outpost ever built and can sometimes be seen from the Earth with the naked eye. It consists of more than a dozen modules built by the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency.

Marshburn, Romanenko and Hadfield will spend four months aboard the space station to conduct some 50 scientific experiments including a test for a system aimed at predicting natural calamities.

Ahead of the launch, the space travelers posed for photos, ran final suit checks and chatted with relatives through glass designed to protect them from infection.

Romanenko was seen off by his father Yuri, who set a record for time spent in space during a mission in the 1970s.

“My dad carried out a spaceflight in a two-person crew … on a similarly cold day 35 years ago and that was one of the first long-term flights,” Romanenko said at a news conference on the eve of the launch.

Typically, the crew performs a final outdoor salute to top space officials before mounting the bus taking them to the Soyuz, but the practice was forgone this time because of the cold; the temperature at launch time was -17 C (2 F). But before the astronauts were packed into the cramped capsule, they exchanged greetings with Popovkin.

Although space travel has long fascinated the general public, interest has flagged in recent decades as tightened budgets have constrained ambitions. But Hadfield expressed optimism about the future of the industry and said that the voyages to the moon, which last happened 40 years ago, set an important precedent.

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