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ISS relief crew blast off on Soyuz spacecraft

Last Soyuz mission before Shuttle's comeback

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The next inhabitants of the International Space Station blasted off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, just after one o'clock this morning (BST).

A bit of training for Sergei K. Krikalev, Expedition 11 commander. Image: NASA

The Soyuz capsule reached orbit about nine minutes after lift-off, NASA reports. Russian space controllers said that the craft's solar arrays had deployed properly, and that everything appeared normal. The capsule is scheduled to dock with the ISS early on Sunday morning (BST).

Three astronauts are on board: a Russian, Sergei Krikalev; an American, John Phillips; and an Italian, Roberto Vittori. Two will relieve the ISS's current crew and take up residence on the space station for the next six months.

All five men will be on board for just over a week, before Vittori returns to Earth with the current residents, Leroy Chiao and Salizhan Sharipov. Their pod is scheduled to land in Kazakhstan at 23:09, BST on 24 April.

The Soyuz space craft took over responsibility for servicing the ISS after the Columbia disaster in 2003. NASA hopes to resume Shuttle flights to and from the space station with Discovery, scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in a window between 15 May and 3 June. ®

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