A mission to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight has blasted off from Kazakhstan.
The goal is to explore the potential for longer manned missions.
Yuri Gagarin, the first space traveler, made the historic journey that put the Soviets ahead of the Americans in the space race.
With the US shuttle programme due to end this summer, NASA has agreed to pay Russia almost $63 million per astronaut in the coming years.
Al Jazeera's Neave Barker reports.