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INTERNATIONAL CREW LIFTS OFF IN 1ST CIS SPACE MISSION SINCE SOVIET BREAKUP

The first Commonwealth space mission of the post-Soviet era blasted off Tuesday with an international crew carrying hopes of rejuvenating the flagging Soviet space program.

The Soyuz-TM spaceship lifted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome into a clear sky over Central Asia, taking a crew of two Russians and a German to the Mir space station.Technicians pronounced the launch a success as the gray 160-foot craft, a blazing point of light, disappeared from view.

"Flight proceeding normally," said a technician heard on television monitors. "Everyone is feeling fine. Engines working smoothly."

The crew includes German air force officer Klaus Dietrich Flade, the first cosmonaut from former West Germany.

Flade will leave his two flight colleagues to take over the 51-ton space station for the next five months and return to Earth March 25 with Mir's current crew - Alexander Volkov and flight engineer Sergei Krikalyov.

Krikalyov had been due back late last year, but his stay aboard Mir was extended by six months when Soviet authorities scrapped a mission to replace him.