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Russian spacecraft blasts off

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A US-Russian space mission is now in orbit and heading for the International Space Station (ISS), where veteran astronaut Michael Foale is due to take up his post as commander.

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Michael Foale is making his sixth trip into space

British-born Foale, 46, who now lives in the US, will stay on the orbiting outpost for six months with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri.

The Soyuz TMA-3 spacecraft lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1138 (0538 GMT) amid tight security.

It is expected to dock at the 16-nation ISS on Monday.

Spanish astronaut Pedro Duque, from the European Space Agency (Esa), is also travelling to the ISS to conduct scientific experiments as part of the 10-day Cervantes Mission.

US space agency (Nasa) head Sean O'Keefe said the successful launch was "a testament to the [Russian and US] partnership and how deep it really is".

Relief crew

The main purpose of the mission is to exchange crews and to switch over the Soyuz space craft, which is kept permanently docked at the ISS in case of emergencies.

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Michael Foale

Foale and Kaleri, who make up the Expedition 8 crew, will replace Russian Yuri Malenchenko, 41, and American Ed Lu (Expedition 7 crew), who have been living and working in space since April.

They were the first crew to return to space after the Columbia disaster, Lu wearing the badge of his lost colleagues.

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