|The mission will include the final space shuttle docking with the International Space Station [Reuters/NASA]
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft has lifted off from Kazakhstan, carrying a three-man crew to the International Space Station.
Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, NASA's Michael Fossum, and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan's JAXA space agency were on board the capsule that blasted off on Wednesday and will take two days to reach the ISS, where it will dock and remain until mid-November.
The mission will occur concurrently with the final US space shuttle mission, with Fossum and fellow NASA astronaut Ron Garan set to play leading roles in the final act of the programme.
"They're going to be very proud to be part of the last shuttle dock mission. It's obviously going to be a sad time for all of us to see the end of the program," said NASA colleague Jeff Williams, who accompanied Fossum's family during their stay at the Baikonur space centre where the Soyuz craft launched from.
At 02:15 local time Wednesday (2015 GMT Tuesday), the ferocious roar of rockets filled the desolate expanse of the Russian-leased space launch site.
Furukawa gave a thumbs-up sign as the rocket charged into low orbit at speeds approaching 23,000km per hour, and a soft toy in the cabin began to float, indicating zero gravity.
"We feel just great," Volkov said in answer to a question from mission control outside Moscow.
The three will be joining Russians Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko on board the ISS, in addition to Garan.
Once the shuttles are finally retired, the Soyuz spacecraft, whose basic design has changed little since the beginning of human space flight decades ago, will be the only means of transportation to the ISS.
It will also be the second run for the upgraded digital model of the Soyuz.