Brazilian Marcos Pontes has become his country's first astronaut, blasting off from Earth Thursday morning for the International Space Station.

Montes, along with Russian Pavel Vinogradov and American Jeffrey Williams, took off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. He will spend nine days aboard the space station, returning April 9 with the current Russian - U.S. crew members, who have been in orbit for six months.

The Brazilian Air Force officer will conduct several scientific experiments and make observations of his country's surface.

Montes said he would take his national flag along, as well as items to commemorate the first airplane flight by a Brazilian 100 years ago. He also planned to carry a Brazilian football shirt, in a bid to bring the team good luck in the World Cup.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.