BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - A Russian Soyuz spaceship blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan towards the International Space Station on Wednesday carrying a crew of three, including the first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.
Emirati astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori, Russian commander Oleg Skripochka, and flight engineer Jessica Meir of NASA are expected to dock with the space station about six hours later.
AlMansoori, 35, a former fighter jet pilot, will spend eight days aboard the station, becoming the first Arab to visit the giant scientific laboratory orbiting the Earth.
He plans to carry out a series of experiments, hold several live space-to-Earth sessions and host an Emirati food night wearing the traditional national clothing, the UAE authorities have said.
Hours before launch, AlMansoori together with crewmates received a blessing from a Russian orthodox priest in line with Russian space tradition, although unlike the two others he was spared from being sprinkled with holy water.
Smiling, AlMansoori made a Winston Churchill-style V hand sign while standing on the stairs leading to the elevator which took the crew to their capsule.
The new crew’s arrival will boost the ISS headcount to nine - for the first time in four years - until AlMansoori and two astronauts from a previous expedition return to earth on Oct.3.
Reporting by Shamil Zhumatov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean