An international crew of three, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Don Pettit and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Andre Kuipers from the Netherlands, took off to the International Space Station, where they are scheduled to dock on Friday (December 23rd) at 10:22 a.m. EST (1522 GMT). The Russian spacerocket, Soyuz TMA-03 lifted off in Kazakhstan at 8:16 a.m. EST (1316 GMT).
They will be orbiting for about 5 months, as a part of the Expedition 30 mission, and will return in May 2012.
Image by NASA/Carla Cioffi
The team of Expedition 30 will also take part in a milestone event starting on February 2nd. If everything goes as planed, the first commercial spacecraft will launch to visit the International Space Station. The SpaceX Dragon capsulewill deliver its first cargo as part of a NASA program to encourage the development of private spacecraft to help fill the gap left by the retirement of the space shuttles this summer.
Image by NASA TV
An interesting fact: The Soyuz TMA-03M patch was the final patch based on the children's competition that was initiated for the Soyuz TMA-14 flight. The children's project had been organized by Roscosmos Public Relations and in mid 2011 Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center took over the responsibility of the operational aspects of the Soyuz patches.
Check out the video from December 19th where you can see Russian Soyuz being prepared and moved towards the launch pad: