Countdown to lift off

The Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne is blasting off from the Baikonur Space Centre today. He will be spending six months aboard the ISS, the International Space Station.
Preparations for the launch at 10:34 UTC are well underway. Frank De Winne and his colleagues are spending the last two and a half hours before the launch in the Soyuz rocket that will take them into space.
On Tuesday De Winne met with his wife and children. He stayed the night in the Cosmonauts' Hotel in Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

During the final hours before the launch a number of traditions are observed. The cosmonauts including the Belgian put their signatures on the door of their hotel room.

After they leave the hotel the cosmonauts receive a blessing from a Russian Orthodox priest.

They also swear an oath of readiness before the Russian aviation authorities.

The three space travellers then take the bus to cover the 40 kilometres to the launch pad of the Soyuz rocket.

There they put on their space suits and spend the last 2.5 hours in the rocket awaiting blast off.

The journey to the ISS will take two days.

Frank De Winne is spending six months aboard the space station, the final two months of his stay he will be in command.

Into the history books

De Winne's flight is historic. For the first time a permanent crew of six astronauts will be on board the ISS at the same time.

Severe winds at the launch site and an unconfirmed report of a journalist being diagnosed with swine flu had raised last-minute concerns that the flight might be cancelled.

But Russian space officials gave final clearance for the launch of the Soyuz spacecraft that will ferry Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, and Belgium's Frank De Winne to the orbiting laboratory.

The astronauts and cosmonaut will dock with the space station in their Russian-made Soyuz TMA-15 capsule.

Thirsk called the expansion from a three-person to a six-person crew a "milestone" and said one of their goals was "to prove the station can support six people for a long duration."

Thirsk called the expansion from a three-person to a six-person crew a "milestone" and said one of their goals was "to prove the station can support six people for a long duration."

Living space on the international space station has been expanded over the past few months to accommodate more astronauts. NASA spokesman Rob Navias said in the future, the space station could take as many as 13 people onboard, as the crew plays host to short-term visitors.