Robotic Russian Cargo Ship Launches Toward Space Station
The unmanned Russian Progress 37 cargo craft atop its Soyuz rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 28, 2010 to deliver new supplies to the International Space Station. <a href=http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/space-station-cargo-ship-launch-100428.htmlship>Full Story</a>.
Credit: NASA/Mark Bowman

A Russian rocket carrying a new unmanned cargo ship lifted off Wednesday with tons of fresh food and supplies for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The Soyuz rocket blasted off at 12:15 p.m. EDT (1615 GMT) from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying the robotic Russian-built space freighter Progress 37. The cargo ship is due to arrive at the orbiting laboratory Saturday afternoon.

Tucked aboard Progress 37 are 2.6 tons (2,359 kg) of fresh food, science equipment and other supplies for the six astronauts living aboard the nearly complete International Space Station. The spacecraft is due to dock at the station's Earth-facing Pirs docking port on Saturday at 2:35 p.m. EDT (1835 GMT).

NASA officials said Progress 37 is hauling 1,918 pounds (870 kg) of propellant, 110 pounds (50 kg) of oxygen and air, 220 pounds (100 kg) of water, and about 3,301 pounds (1,497 kg) of experiment hardware and spare parts.

The spacecraft is also carrying some special care packages for the space station crew. Candy, books, and new movies are just some of the fun items making the extra-special delivery, according to Russian news reports.

The space station is currently home to six people ? its full population. The crew includes two Russians, two Americans and a Japanese astronaut. Veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov commands the group.

Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) regularly launches unmanned Progress cargo ships to resupply the station crew. Progress 37, known to Russians as M-05M, is the 37th such ship to head toward the space station, which has been under construction since 1998.

Progress vehicles resemble the three-module Soyuz spacecraft built to ferry astronauts and cosmonauts to and from the space station, but instead of a crew capsule at their center, the unmanned versions carry a round pod packed with fuel for the space station.

Progress spacecraft can also autonomously fly themselves to the space station and dock at one of its four Russian parking spots, though cosmonauts do monitor their approach and can take remote control from inside the station if something goes wrong.

After several months at the space station, the Progress vehicles are jettisoned to make room for more spacecraft carrying supplies or astronauts.

Last week, the automated Progress 35 spacecraft ? which launched in October 2009 ? undocked from the space station. After remaining in orbit for several days to perform science experiments, the spacecraft fired its engine Tuesday to intentionally destroy itself by burning up during re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

The space station astronauts are preparing for a busy month ahead. NASA plans to launch the space shuttle Atlantis on its last-ever spaceflight to deliver a new Russian module for the $100 billion space station.

Liftoff of Atlantis is currently targeted for May 14 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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