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The delayed Soyuz launch of two cosmonauts and an astronaut to the International Space Station lifted off successfully in the early hours of Monday morning.

The Russian Soyuz TMA-22 launched on schedule at 4.14am GMT from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin.

The spacecraft had been delayed by two months after the unmanned Russian cargo ship Progress 44 crashed in Siberia in August shortly after takeoff. That ship was propelled by a Soyuz-U rocket, a launch vehicle almost identical to the Soyuz-FGs that power the people-carrying Soyuz capsules.

Following the rocket disaster, Russian space agency Roscosmos announced that it was postponing the first crew-replacement flight until late October or early November to allow a commission to investigate the accident.

At the end of October, the Russians successfully launched another Progress, the 45, to fly supplies to the ISS, which cleared the way for the manned flight.

"There is no nervousness, we have no doubts about our technology," crew captain Anton Shkaplerov told journalists shortly before the lift-off.

Soyuz rockets are now the only way to get astronauts up to the space station after the US retired its Space Shuttle programme in August.

The Soyuz TMA-22 is due to dock at 4.33am on Wednesday with the space station, which is manned by Expedition 29 commander Mike Fossum of NASA and flight engineers Satoshi Furukawa of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Serge Volkov of Roscosmos. The docking, hatch opening and welcoming sermon will be broadcast on NASA TV.

Fossum will then hand over command of the ISS before he and his crew members board the Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft for the journey home at 1am on 22 November.

The next crew members to head out from Earth are due to launch on 21 December. Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Don Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers will join Expedition 30 as flight engineers.

The six astronauts will carry out dozens of experiments while aboard the ISS, one of which will involve launching the Chibis microsatellite. The crew will put the Chibis, which studies gamma radiation generated by lightning in the atmosphere, into a pod and place it in a Progress M cargo ship, which will then deliver the satellite to its orbit, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

The crew will also be the first to receive the new era of commercial resupply ships from the US. They're due to receive Dragon, the cargo ship built by SpaceX of California, sometime during their four-month stay. ®

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