Rocket carrying crew of 3 blasts off for Int’l Space Station

The Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft launches for the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with Expedition 50 crew members NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. Whitson, Novitskiy, and Pesquet will spend approximately six months on the orbital complex. (Bill Ingalls/Nasa via AP)

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) — A Soyuz rocket carrying a veteran American astronaut, a French newcomer and a Russian cosmonaut blasted off for the International Space Station on Friday.

The crew of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Russia’s Oleg Novitskiy and France’s Thomas Pesquet lifted off as scheduled from the Russia-leased launch facility in Kazakhstan at 2:20 a.m. on Friday (2020 GMT, 3:20 p.m. EST Thursday) before orbiting safely eight minutes later. The crew will now travel for two days before docking at the space station.

Whitson, who will celebrate her 57th birthday in February, has now become the oldest woman in space, adding to her long list of barrier-breaking records. This will be the third International Space Station mission for Whitson, an Iowa-born biochemist, and her second stint as commander. She already has spent 377 days in space and performed multiple spacewalks. Her upcoming six-month mission should push her beyond 534 days in space, the U.S. record set in September by 58-year-old astronaut Jeffrey Williams.

Whitson is riding the Soyuz with the 45-year-old experienced Russian cosmonaut and the 38-year-old French astronaut, who is making his maiden flight into space. They will join an American and two Russians at the orbiting lab who have worked at the station since October.