Astronauts blast off for space station

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A Russian rocket carrying a three-person US-Russian crew to the International Space Station has blasted off successfully from Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz TMA-19 is carrying US astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker and Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin to the international orbiting laboratory for a mission lasting about six months.

The trio will be onboard the space station to see the final shuttle Endeavour depart from its last planned mission to the lab in November before the fleet is finally retired.

With the shuttle being phased out, the venerable Soyuz rocket will take over as the only means by which astronauts will be able to travel to the space station.

The three-person crew will join Russian commander Alexander Skvortskov, NASA flight engineer Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russia's Mikhail Kornienko, who have been on the orbiting laboratory since April.

Last week, the international space station raised its orbit by 1.6 miles to enable optimal positioning for the arriving Soyuz craft.

A Progress cargo carrier also is due to arrive at the orbiting lab later this month.

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