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ISS gets Soyuz visitors for the holidays

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Three fresh crew members for the International Space Station blasted off from Kazakhstan on Sunday to staff an orbital construction team over the holidays.

NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi launched at 5:52 pm ET (10:52 pm GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They're expected to reach the ISS on December 23.

"Everything's fine onboard the vehicle. Everybody feels great, no problems, no issues," flight commander Kotov radioed in after blastoff.

The three will join fellow Expedition 22 crew members, Maxim Surayev and Jeffrey Williams, who have been the only two (humans) aboard the orbiting outpost since early this month. Kotov, Noguchi, and Creamer are scheduled to stay aboard the ISS until May 2010.

The Expedition 22 crew has a busy 161 days in space scheduled ahead, which includes docking two Russian spacecraft, three US shuttles, and performing one spacewalk. In January, Suraev and Williams will fly the Soyuz spacecraft that brought them to station from its current spot at the end of the ISS's Zvezda module to the Poisk module. Space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to arrive in February carrying the Tranquility module and Cupola observatory/robo-control room.

Expedition 23 begins with the Soyuz TMA-16 undocking in March 2010 and Kotov taking over the helm as commander. Three new crew members will arrive shortly after on another Soyuz spacecraft. ®

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