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Russian rocket carrying 3-man crew blasts off for International Space Station

A rocket carrying a Russian-American crew to the International Space Station has blasted off successfully from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz booster rocket lifted off as scheduled at 3:17 a.m local time Wednesday (2117 GMT Tuesday), lighting up the night skies over the steppe with a giant fiery tail.

The crew — NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev — are set to dock the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft at the station less than six hours after the launch and are scheduled to stay in orbit for six months.

The trio will be greeted by Japan's Koichi Wakata, NASA's Rick Mastracchio and Russia's Mikhail Tyurin, who have been at the station since November. Wakata is the first Japanese astronaut to lead the station.