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Three astronauts blast off to space station

Soyuz spacecraft blasts off from Kazakhstan. A NASA photo

BAIKONUR (BNS): A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new crew members has headed to the International Space Station.

The Soyuz TMA-03M space capsule successfully blasted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome at 1316 GMT Wednesday.

The launch took place without any hitch with the spacecraft reaching orbit about nine minutes later.

The ISS members flying on board the Soyuz include NASA's Don Pettit, Russia's Oleg Kononenko and Netherlands' Andre Kuipers.

The capsule is slated for docking with the orbital laboratory's Rassvet module at 1520 GMT on Friday.

The new members will join NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, who have been aboard the orbital station since mid-November.

The trio, as members of Expedition 30 team, will live and work aboard the orbiting outpost until May, 2012. They will become members of Expedition 31 crew when Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin undock in their Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft in March.

During their stay, the six crew members are also expected to witness the visit of first commercial spaceship -- SpaceX's Dragon -- to the ISS.

The unmanned Dragon capsule's rendezvous with the ISS is scheduled for Feb. 7, 2012.

Wednesday's launch was the second manned mission to the ISS on board the Soyuz capsule following the August 24 crash of a Soyuz U rocket on a supply mission to the orbital station. Following that mishap, Russia had temporarily put off all Soyuz launches.

After the retirement of US space shuttles in July, the Russian Soyuz vehicles remain the sole means to ferry astronauts and cargo to the orbital station.


Soyuz  ISS  

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