A Russian capsule carrying three astronauts from Russia, the United States and Italy has blasted off for the International Space Station.

The Soyuz capsule roared into the pre-dawn darkness just after 3 a.m. Monday (2100 GMT Sunday) from the Russian manned space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Aboard the capsule are Russian Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Terry Virts and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy.

The craft will dock with the space station about six hours after launch, where they will join three others already aboard. Those include Russian Elana Serova, and Cristoforetti's arrival will make it the second time in the station's 16-year history that two women have been aboard on long-term missions.