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The replacement crew for the International Space Station blasted off from Kazakhstan early this morning in a Soyuz TMA-5 capsule atop a Russian rocket.

The launch was delayed because of a leak in one of the engine's propulsion systems, and a pyrotechnic device accidentally firing during testing. The spacemen, two Russians and one American, have now arrived safely in orbit following their 7:06am (Moscow time) lift off, and will orbit the planet for two days before reaching the ISS. Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov and NASA's Leroy Chiao will relieve the crew currently living on the ISS. Yuri Shargin, a Russian space forces officer, will spend 10 days on the station before returning to Earth with the old crew.

The first priority once on board will be to try to fix the temperamental oxygen generator that have plagued the astronauts for the last few weeks. The crew has patched the system, but their replacements are bringing spare parts along to attempt a full repair. Last month, there was concern that the broken generator could jeopardise the mission. The plan is for Sharipov and Chiao to live on the station for the next six months. But without a properly functioning generator, there is only enough oxygen guaranteed for the next 140 days.

Other issues include trying to make the space station a quieter place to live. It is so loud at the moment that all its inhabitants have to wear ear protection.

During their six month stay, Sharipov and Chiao will receive two supply packages from unmanned launches, and have planned for four space walks. In addition, they will conduct several scientific experiments including research into an proteins that could form part of an AIDS vaccine. ®

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