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Russian Soyuz Spacecraft Blasts Off


It was a picture-perfect launch into the clear blue skies of Central Asia. A Russian Soyuz spacecraft is now heading for the International Space Station, with three space travelers on board. They include the world's first female space tourist - an Iranian-American woman.

The Soyuz blasted off, right on schedule, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying a Russian cosmonaut and two Americans to the space station.

American astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin are to spend the next six months on the station, as part of the normal crew rotation.

The third person heading into space is Anousheh Ansari, who grew up in Iran but has lived for many years in the United States.

The first woman to pay for her trip into the heavens, Ansari says her chance to go to space is a dream come true. She says she hopes her trip will provide inspiration to young people around the world.

"I'm happy that not only my flight but the life I've lived, so far, becomes an inspiration for our youth - especially to girls and women around the world," she said. "Looking at my background they can see that sometimes the impossible can be possible, and dreams can come true."

Ansari will spend eight days on the station, conducting experiments and preparing materials for educational use back on earth. She formerly ran a telecommunications company with her husband. She now works to promote efforts to make private space travel more accessible.

Ansari says she still feels close to the Iranian people and is wearing patches of both Iran and the United States on her space suit.

The Soyuz is scheduled to arrive at the space station just days after the American space shuttle Atlantis left.