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ISS-Bound Crew Blasts Off from Baikonur Cosmodrome

Soyuz-FG rocket booster fires Soyuz TMA-07M spaceship to the International Space Station from the Russian-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Dec. 19, 2012.
A Russian-built Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft blasted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome at 1212 UTC Wednesday, bound for the International Space Station.

On board are Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, U.S. astronaut Tom Mashburn and Canadian space agency flight engineer Chris Hadfield, who will eventually command the space station.

The 150the ISS-bound trip by a Soyuz craft, it is due to dock with the space station on Friday.

Anatoly Rydakov, head of joint calculations for the launch, said sub-freezing temperatures along the Kazakh steppe didn't compromise launch operations.

"The launch complex can take temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius to as low as 40 degrees below zero," he said on Russian State television, describing conditions as comfortable for a launch.

The crew will join three others at the orbiting station, including U.S. astronaut Kevin Ford and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin, who have been managing the $100-billion research center since October. The new crew will spend the next five months on board the space station performing two spacewalks and working on experiments in the orbiting laboratory.

Wednesday’s successful launch is a plus for Russia’s space program, which has recently seen a number of mishaps.

Last year, the Phobos-Grunt probe, meant to collect soil from Mars and return to earth, blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome but failed to leave orbit. In another incident, a cargo ship, meant to deliver supplies to the space station, failed to leave the Earth's orbit and crashed in Siberia.

Many analysts attribute the mishaps, in part, due to a decrease in the country’s space budget.

Russia is the only country that ferries crews to the International Space Station and back since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) retired its aging fleet of space shuttles. As a result, the U.S. pays about $60 million to send an astronaut to the space station.