A Russiancargo ship launched toward the International Space Station (ISS) Wednesdayladen with food, water and holiday cheer for the two astronauts living aboardthe orbital laboratory.
Theunmanned Progress 20 supply ship successfully rode a Russian-built Soyuz rocketspaceward at about 1:38 p.m. EST (1838 GMT) in a flight staged from BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Progress 20 is slated to arrive at the space stationon Dec. 23.
"For us,Santa's sleigh is arriving the day before Christmas Eve," NASA astronaut BillMcArthur, the station's Expedition 12 commander, told reporters this week. "We'llbegin to unpack our new cargo ship on Christmas."
McArthurand Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev, representing the Federal Space Agency as Expedition12 flight engineer, are in the second month of their six-month trip to the ISS,and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Progress 20.
About 5,680pounds (2,576 kilograms) of cargo is tucked aboard the Progress 20 supply ship.That includes about 463 pounds (210 kilograms) of water, 183 pounds (83kilograms) of oxygen and air, and 1,940 pounds (879 kilograms) pounds ofpropellant for the station.
Most of thecargo - about 3,100 pounds (1,406 kilograms) - is in the form of dry supplies,such as experiment hardware, spare parts and other useful equipment.
The vehicleis also ferrying some holiday treats, such as Christmas gifts, personal messagesand other goodies for McArthur and Tokarev, NASA officials said.
Progress 20was originally slated to replace a previous cargo ship, Progress19, at the aft end of the space station's Russian-built Zvezda service module,which the Expedition 12 crew was set to discard on Dec. 20.
Russianflight controllers, however, opted to keep Progress 19 at its berth until March2006 to allow McArthur and Tokarev additional time to cram more trash andunneeded items into the expendable vehicle. Progress 19 is expected to burn upin the Earth's atmosphere during reentry.
Meanwhile,Progress 20 will dock at the station's Pirs docking compartment, which istypically reserved for crew-carrying Soyuz spacecraft.
NASAofficials told SPACE.com that Progress vehicles have used the Pirs dockingport in the past, such as the Progress11 cargo tug during Expedition 7.
McArthurand Tokarev are scheduled to return to Earth in early April 2006 afterwelcoming their relief crew, Expedition 13's Jeffrey Williams and PavelVinogradov in March, Russian space officials have said.
MarcosPontes, Brazil's first astronaut, is also slated to launch toward the ISSwith the Expedition 13 crew.
Progress 20is currently scheduled to dock at the ISS at 2:55 p.m. EST (1955 GMT) on Dec.23.
NASA TVwill broadcast the cargo ship's ISS arrival beginning at 2:00 p.m. EST (1900GMT).
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 12