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Russian Spacecraft Heads for International Space Station - 2004-10-14

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying two Russian cosmonauts and one American astronaut has reached orbit, after blasting off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The craft is due to dock with the International Space Station in about two days.

The Soyuz craft lifted off right on schedule.

American astronaut Leroy Chiao and Russians Salizhan Sharipov and Yuri Shargin are scheduled to join two men who have been on the space station for the past 6 months.

Mr. Chiao and Mr. Sharipov will replace the current crew of American Michael Fincke and Russian Gennady Padalka, as part of the usual six-month rotation on station.

The launch ended a 30-year tradition of having at least one member of a crew with prior flying experience in a Soyuz spacecraft.

However, Russian officials said intense training more than made up for the change, adding that the three men are capable of dealing with any potential problems on the flight.

The Russian craft has become the only means of reaching the station since NASA temporarily grounded all American space shuttles after the Columbia shuttle disaster last year, which killed all seven astronauts on board.