A Russian space capsule carrying three astronauts from the United States, Britain and Russia has blasted off for the International Space Station on Tuesday. It’s expected to take about six-and-a-half hours to reach the Space Station. (Dec. 15)

A Russian space rocket with American, British and Russian astronauts on board successfully blasted off Tuesday for the International Space Station, the European Space Agency said.

The Soyuz space capsule took off from a Russian launch facility in Kazakhstan with Timothy Kapra (United States), Timothy Peake (United Kingdom) and Yuri Malenchenko (Russia).

The trio will join Russians Sergey Volkov and Mikhail Korniyenko, and American Scott Kelly, already on the space station.

The journey was expected to last about six-and-a-half hours. Once there, they will spend about six months in space conducting research and scientific experiments.

Peake, 43, is the first British astronaut to work full-time for a space program.

“Obviously, there is a lot of pressure being a British astronaut going to the space station for the first time,” Peake, 43, told Florida Today in September. “But, equally, I’m really excited that so many people are so interested in this mission.”

Peake is not the first Briton to fly in space. That was Helen Sharman, who in 1991 visited the Mir space station on a flight funded privately and by Russia. Three NASA astronauts and two more space tourists with British citizenship followed to either Mir or the International Space Station.

Peake is the first to fly as a  U.K. government representative in the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps, which he joined in 2009 as part of a six-person class.

The British Army Air Corps major and test pilot hopes his mission — named Principia in honor of Isaac Newton’s ground-breaking physics work — helps inspire young people and position his country for future space exploration missions.

“It’s vitally important now that the U.K. does get involved in human spaceflight, because we’re already looking towards 2024 and life beyond the International Space Station,” he said. “If the U.K. doesn’t position itself correctly, then we really will miss the boat.”

Once in orbit, Peake plans to drink two cups of black tea daily, taken with creamer and sugar. He even designed a system to decant the tea from one pouch to another so it doesn’t get too bitter.

“I’m not quite sure it’s going to taste the same,” he said. “But I think once you’re up in space, anything that reminds you of home is going to be beneficial and going to be welcome.”

Kopra, who lived on the space station for two months in 2009, won’t carry the weight of a nation’s expectations to space. But he can finally move beyond the disappointment of his lost shuttle mission.

Just more than a month before he was scheduled to launch on Discovery’s final flight in 2011, Kopra suffered a broken hip in a bicycle wreck and was bumped from the crew, not knowing whether he’d get another chance to fly.

“I guess I’m substantially more grateful for the job that I have and appreciate what opportunities I have available to me,” said Kopra, now 52.

Malenchenko, a Russian cosmonaut who turns 54 next week, will have spent more than 800 days in space by the time his sixth spaceflight ends in May, ranking him among the top three people all-time.

“This is my occupation,” he said. “I am interested in flying. This is what I like to do.”

Contributing: James Dean, Florida Today.

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