| GEO World|
| Astronauts to blast off to expanded-space station|
| Updated at: 0903 PST, Tuesday, May 26, 2009|
BAIKONUR: A Belgian, a Canadian and a Russian blast off for the International Space Station on Wednesday as Russia steps up its rocket launches to support a doubling of the station's crew.
The astronauts will lift off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket at 4:34 pm (1034 GMT) from Russia's historic Baikonur cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppe.
They will hurtle into low Earth orbit and then make a gradual ascent to the station over two days, docking on Friday.
The voyage marks a doubling of the station's permanent crew from three to six and with it a rise in the frequency of manned flights aboard the Soyuz, a Soviet-designed rocket that originated in the late 1960s.
Belgian Frank de Winne, Canadian Robert Thirsk and Russian Roman Romanenko will join Russian Gennady Padalka, US astronaut Michael Barratt and Japan's Koichi Wakata aboard the station.
The station, which orbits 350 kilometres (220 miles) above Earth, has become a sophisticated platform for scientific experiments after the installation of a European laboratory last year and the arrival of a hi-tech Japanese lab, Kibo, which is currently being completed.