A reliable Soyuz rocket, carrying Expedition 11 commander Sergei Krikalev, NASA astronaut and science officer John Phillips and European Space Agency flier Roberto Vittori, roared to life on time at 6:46 a.m. local time (8:46 p.m. EDT Friday) and climbed smoothly away from its launch stand — the same pad used by Yuri Gagarin — at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, reports CBS News Space Consultant Bill Harwood.
About nine minutes later, the Soyuz spacecraft separated from its spent upper stage. A few moments after that, the capsule's solar panels and antennas deployed to complete the initial launch phase of the mission.
Space engineers, who watched the launch on a large screen at Russian Mission Control outside Moscow, broke into applause as an announcer confirmed that the space ship had entered orbit and that all systems were working fine.
"You guys are true professionals," ground control radioed the crew. "Congratulations on a successful launch."
Russian Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov paid tribute after the launch to his nation's hardworking, poorly compensated spacemen.
"The people who are doing the job are real romantics who are involved in fascinating work for a miserable salary," he told reporters after the launch, which he called a "remarkable event." Cosmonauts typically earn $144 to $179 a month.
Phillips's wife Laura and daughter Allie watched as he celebrated his 54th birthday with the lift-off from the remote, wind-swept Baikonur base on the Kazakh steppes.
"The sunrise with the beautiful rocket launch, it was just outstanding," Laura Phillips said as she huddled with a crowd of officials bundled against the cold, with temperatures just above freezing.
Docking at the Pirs module of the international space station is expected around 10:19 p.m. EDT Saturday.