Canadian David Saint-Jacques reaches the International Space Station

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques has arrived at the International Space Station.

The 48-year-old doctor and astronaut lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan this morning aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket with NASA astronaut Anne McClain and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.

The launch went smoothly at the precise liftoff time of 6:31 a.m. eastern time, with the crew reporting that all was well in the critical initial minutes after liftoff – safely reaching orbit shortly afterward.

The spacecraft docked at the space station following four orbits around the Earth. After the crew checked for leaks, the hatch was opened and they were welcomed aboard the ISS, their home for the next six months.

Speaking in French, Saint-Jacques said he watched his first sunset from space and called it “breathtaking.”

This is the first manned Russian rocket launch since a dramatic Soyuz failure on Oct. 11. That’s when a rocket failure forced the Soyuz capsule carrying two astronauts to make an emergency landing.

Russia suspended all manned space launches pending an investigation before giving the green light Nov. 1.

Saint-Jacques has spent years training for the six-month mission, which was originally scheduled for Dec. 20 but was moved up after the aborted Soyuz launch.

Aboard the International Space Station, he will conduct a number of science experiments, with some focusing on the physical effects of the weak gravity astronauts experience in orbit as well as how to provide remote medical care.

Saint-Jacques will be his own main subject, using his medical training to try and develop new programs to keep astronauts healthy in space.

He’ll be observing the effects of space on bone density, ocular pressure, and even the brain - all in the hopes of helping NASA figure out how to physically prepare astronauts for a potential mission to Mars.

The crowd on the ground watching the liftoff in Kazakhstan included Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, herself a former astronaut.

Payette, who completed missions to the space station in 1999 and 2009, says the most dangerous moments come immediately following the launch as the rocket passes through several "critical zones" on its way into space.

Saint-Jacques is the first Canadian resident of the International Space Station since Chris Hadfield, who was on a five-month mission that ended in May 2013.

With files from The Canadian Press