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US-Russian trio blast off to space station in Soyuz launch

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Three new crew members blasted off in the wee hours of this morning for a two-day flight aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station.

While Elon Musk is still dreaming of carrying people into space in his Dragon craft, and NASA's Shuttles rumble off into retirement, the Soyuz spacecraft is still the only way to get 'nauts up to the ISS.

This particular rocket, the TMA-04M, lifted off with NASA in Kazakhstan at 3am GMT, carrying astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin from Baikonur Cosmodrome. It is due to dock with the Poisk Mini-Research Module of the ISS at 4.38am on Thursday.

The three new spacemen will add to Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers for a full Expedition 31 crew and will have a four-month tour of duty on the station.

Kononenko, Pettit and Kuipers arrived on December 23 and will be returning to Earth on July 1, and the three new guys will then become the lead 'nauts for Expedition 32.

As soon as the new guys get onboard, the crew will be busy preparing for the arrival of the first commercial craft to visit the station: the cargoship Dragon build by Musk's SpaceX, currently scheduled to arrive on 19 May.

Acaba and Padalka have both been on the ISS before, but the trip will be Revin's first ever in space.

Acaba was on the ISS in March 2009 and walked out in space for 12 hours and 57 minutes in total over two trips to the outside. Padalka is a space veteran having spent 198 days aboard the Russian space station Mir in 1999 and taking trips to the ISS in 2004 and 2009. ®

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