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Kazakhstan: International Space Station Crew Blasts Off

Moscow, 31 October 2000 (RFE/RL) - A Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off from Kazakhstan today carrying the first crew to the International Space Station. The launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome went ahead as scheduled. The Soyuz rocket lifted off in a thick fog exactly on time and there were no problems reported as the craft climbed into orbit. U.S. astronaut Bill Shepherd is the commander of the three-man crew. The two Russian cosmonauts are Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalyov.

The crew is scheduled to arrive at the space station on Thursday. They will then make the space station's three modules operational and will connect and test onboard computers.

They will conduct a series of medical, biological, and technical experiments after organizing cargo and additional equipment brought in by Russia's Progress cargo ship and the U.S. shuttle Discovery.

They will remain in the station until next February when a replacement crew will arrive.

The space station is backed by 16 nations led by the U.S. and Russia. The station currently consists of the Russian modules Zvezda and Zarya, and the U.S. module Unity.