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Fresh Cargo Ship Ready to Launch Toward ISS

CAPE CANAVERAL - A Russianspace freighter filled with food, water and other crucial cargo is slated to belaunched from central Asia late tonight on a two-day trip to the InternationalSpace Station.

Mounted atop a Russiangovernment Soyuz rocket, the Progress cargo carrier is scheduled to blast offfrom Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:09 p.m. Eastern time.

The craft will be the 18thProgress to fly to the station and the ninth since the 2003 Columbia accidentgrounded NASA's shuttle fleet, cutting off a key supply line to the outpost.

While food, water andoxygen reserves have been slim in recent months, NASA officials say Russiancosmonaut Sergei Krikalev and U.S. astronaut John Phillips now have plenty ofsupplies.

"We actually haveadequate resources onboard the station," said Kirk Shireman, a NASAstation project manager at Johnson Space Center in Houston. "And I thinkwe've all been working very hard these last two-and-a-half years to support theISS with just the resources onboard and the Progress vehicles."

Station crews have reliedon supplies shipped aboard Progress vehicles or NASA shuttles, the latter ofwhich carry much more cargo than the automated Russian space freighters.

Late last December, a foodshortage would have forced a crew to evacuate had a Progress failed to arrivewith a four-month supply of rations. More recently, the failure of thestation's primary oxygen generator has forced Krikalev and Phillips to rely ondwindling reserves of breathing air.

The reserves include astore of solid fuel oxygen generators similar to devices that provide drop-downemergency air supplies on commercial airliners. About 25 percent of thosegenerators, however, have failed in recent weeks.

Shireman said air reservestoday are projected to last until Oct. 27. Extra reserves being brought upaboard the Progress will provide a supply that would last through January, JSCspokesman Rob Navias said.

The Progress is scheduledto dock at the station at 8:44 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, bringing with it atotal of 4,662 pounds of food, water, oxygen, fuel, spare parts and othercargo. Another Progress is scheduled for launch on Aug. 25.

Krikalev and Phillips arein the midst of a six-month tour of duty on the station. The two are scheduledto return to Earth Oct. 7, but their stay might be extended about a month toopen up a September launch window for a planned shuttle flight to the outpost.

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