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Soyuz crew blasts off for space station

A manned Soyuz U booster on the launch pad at Baikonure. A file photo.

BAIKONUR (AFP): A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying a crew of three to the International Space Station blasted off Wednesday from Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz TMA-20 rocket, with a Russian, an Italian and an American aboard, took off in the night sky at 10:09 pm Moscow time (0039 IST), television pictures showed.

It lifted off on schedule from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in the Kazakh steppe, spitting out a plume of fire and smoke and disappearing into the star-lit sky.

"The flight is normal," a spokesman for the Russian Mission Control told AFP.

The spacecraft is due to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) at 11:12 pm Moscow time (2012 0142 IST) on Friday.

The commander of the crew is Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, who is on his first space flight.

Joining him are flight engineers Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, who has made one space flight before, and NASA austronaut Catherine Coleman, who has two space missions under her belt.

At 1.88 metres (six foot two), Nespoli may be the tallest astronaut to have been sent into space aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and Russia's rocket and space company Energia had to make a special seat for him.

"A big man - a big seat," Energia head Vitaly Lopota said in comments posted on the website of the Russian Mission Control.

The three-member crew is to join NASA's Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka abord the ISS.

The flight comes after the spacecraft suffered damage to its container in transit on its way to Baikonur.

Engineers spotted the damage to the Soyuz TMA-20's transport container after it was shipped by rail to the Baikonur cosmodrome.


Soyuz   rocket  Russia  

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