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Spy joins crowds at rocket launch

A Russian rocket with a US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on board has set off for the International Space Station.

The Soyuz TMA-01M launched at the scheduled time from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and was waved off by Russian spy Anna Chapman.

The crew's relatives and supporters cheered when the Soyuz engines roared and the spaceship lifted off, and Russian engineers hugged and kissed one another after the craft shed its first stage and it became clear the launch was a success.

Mike Suffredini, head of Nasa's space station programme who watched the launch from an observation point with his Russian counterparts, also gave his thumbs-up to the launch.

Scott Kelly and Russia's Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka are due to reach the orbiting laboratory in two days to begin their five-month mission, and will join two US astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut who have been at the station since June.

Chapman, who has avoided the public and the press since being deported from the United States in July, appeared at the farewell ceremony for the space crew and was quickly moved to a guarded guest house near the launch pad accompanied by a guard who blocked her from reporters.

An official with Russia's space agency said Chapman was at Baikonur as an adviser to the president of FondServisBank, which works with space industry companies and was handing out awards.

Chapman was one of 10 Russian spies deported from the United States, and sultry photos gleaned from social networking sites made her a tabloid sensation.

Kelly and the two Russians on their way to the International Space Station are flying in Russia's first all-digital Soyuz TMA-01M.

The overhauled Soyuz will allow a doubling of the launch rate of Soyuz spaceships, which will help maintain a crew of six aboard the space station when the NASA shuttle fleet is retired.


From Belfast Telegraph