(Florida Today) - An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts have safely begun an express flight to the International Space Station.
Strapped inside a Soyuz spacecraft, Mike Hopkins, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy blasted off into a clear night sky from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2:58 a.m. local time (4:58 p.m. EDT).
The crew reached orbit about nine minutes later and is due to arrive at the orbiting research complex at 10:48 p.m. EDT.
It's the third time an ISS crew will attempt a "four-orbit rendezvous," which significantly shortens the journey that typically used to take two days.
The flight is the first for Hopkins, a 44-year-old Air Force colonel who is the first member of NASA's 2009 astronaut class to fly, and for Ryazanskiy.
Kotov has been to the ISS twice before. All three plan to live on the station until March.
Tonight they'll join three Expedition 37 crew members: American Karen Nyberg, Italian Luca Parmitano and Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, who are scheduled to return home in November.
Shortly before they leave in November, three more crew members are due to arrive for a brief stretch with nine crew members.
They'll bring up an Olympic torch that Kotov and Ryazanskiy plan to carry on a spacewalk, part of celebrations leading up to Russia's hosting of the Winter Games in Sochi next year. Nyberg's crew will ferry the torch back to the ground.