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A Russian Soyuz-FG carrier rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Space
A Russian Soyuz-FG carrier rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan on Tuesday carrying South Korea's first astronaut, on the 17th expedition to the International Space Station.

The Soyuz TMA-12 delivery vehicle will bring two new crew members to the ISS - Russian cosmonauts Commander Sergei Volkov and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko - along with South Korea's Yi So-yeon, a spaceflight participant.

"The delivery vehicle with the crew of Expedition 17 and the first Korean female astronaut has successfully detached from the booster," a RIA Novosti reporter at Baikonur quoted the launch supervisor as saying. "The crew is feeling well."

The Russian cosmonauts will spend six months on board the orbital station, while Yi So-yeon, a biotechnology engineer, will be in orbit for only ten days.

During their stay on the ISS, the new crew will monitor docking with several space shuttles and cargo craft, move the Soyuz TMA-12 from the Zarya module to the Zvezda module on the Russian segment of the orbital station, and conduct at least one spacewalk.

Their scientific research program comprises over 45 experiments, including studies into the growth of proteins and polymers, forecasting earthquakes, and the influence of space on various life forms, including human beings.

A $25-million contract for a Korean astronaut to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) was signed between Russia and South Korea in December 2006. The original candidate, Ko San, was withdrawn after Russia accused him of taking sensitive documents from a training facility.

Ahead of today's launch, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak congratulated Yi in a televised address, saying the flight would be "celebrated by the entire nation."

Last week, the first European space freighter, Jules Verne, delivered over 7.5 metric tons of supplies to support the operation of the orbital station for another six months.

Members of the current 16th expedition, Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko, will return to Earth with So-yeon Yi in the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft on April 19, while Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman will join Expedition 17.


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