Three head towards space station

A Russian Soyuz craft has launched into the morning skies over Kazakhstan carrying three astronauts on their way to the international space station.

Nasa astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and Japan's Akihito Hoshide will travel for two days before reaching their three colleagues already at the permanent space outpost.

Family members and colleagues watched the launch from an observation platform in the Russian-leased cosmodrome in the dry southern steppes of the sprawling Central Asian nation.

The space station, which orbits up to 255 miles above the earth, is bracing to handle an unprecedented level of traffic.

Japan's HTV3 cargo ship will dock with the space station next week and will be the first of nine craft making contact with the orbiting satellite over a 17-day span.