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Three astronauts blast off for ISS from Kazakhstan

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan: A Soyuz spacecraft carrying Russian, American and Canadian astronauts blasted off on Wednesday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan bound for the International Space Station (ISS).
The spacecraft took off on schedule at 1212 GMT carrying Russian Roman Romanenko, NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, an AFP correspondent said.
“The Soyuz TMA-O7M has separated from the third stage booster rocket and has been brought into the correct orbit,” the Russian space agency said in a statement.
The Soyuz spacecraft is due to dock with the ISS on December 21 at 1412 GMT. The crew will join commander Kevin Ford of NASA and Russian flight engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin on the ISS.
The men will spend around 147 days in space, landing back on Earth in May 2013.
The Soyuz crew is bringing Christmas presents for the astronauts on the ISS, Hadfield told journalists at the Star City training center before launch, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
He said he was hoping to find a Christmas tree and a special festive menu on board the orbiting lab.
Romanenko, 41, the commander of the Soyuz flight, is going to the ISS for the second time. He is the son of a famed Soviet astronaut, Yury Romanenko.
Marshburn, 52, a medical doctor, is also taking part in his second mission, while Hadfield, 53, is making his third trip to space, and his second to the ISS.
When the current ISS astronauts leave in March 2013, Hadfield will take over as commander of the space station, the first Canadian to do so, according to the NASA website.
Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft are now the only way to ferry astronauts to the ISS after the US mothballed its shuttle program last year.
The launch schedule has been delayed by more than a week after an October launch was postponed due to the need to replace a piece of broken equipment.

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