Astronauts blast off for Christmas space mission

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) - December 20, 2009

The Soyuz TMA-17's three astronauts will take the orbiting laboratory's permanent crew to five. The launch early Monday is the first-ever blastoff of a Soyuz rocket on a winter night.

Timothy J. Creamer, Oleg Kotov and Soichi Nohuchi are to join American Jeff Williams and Russian Maxim Surayev, who have been alone on the space station for three weeks.

The Soyuz will take two days to reach and dock with the space station.

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