Astronauts blast off for ISS on Gagarin mission

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Three astronauts on Tuesday blasted off for the International Space Station on a mission honouring the first manned spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin almost 50 years ago.

The two Russians and one American left on a Soyuz rocket from the main launchpad at Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same location where Gagarin left Earth for his historic mission on April 12, 1961.

The flight in the early hours of the morning left a bright beam of light against the background of the clear starry sky over the vast Kazakh steppe, an AFP correspondent reported.

Their mission has been dedicated to Gagarin's flight -- which gave the Soviet Union its greatest Cold War victory over the United States -- and their Soyuz capsule is named after and even inscribed with the name of the cosmonaut.

"The flight is normal," mission control told the crew, who waved and gave the thumbs-up sign to a camera relaying images from the capsule back to earth.

© 2011 AFP

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