Russian Cargo Spacecraft Arrives at Space Station

Progress 60 Arrives at Space Station
Russia's robotic Progress 60 cargo vessel approaches the International Space Station on July 5, 2015. (Image credit: NASA TV)

A robotic Russian resupply ship arrived at the International Space Station early Sunday morning (July 5), ending a streak of two straight cargo-mission failures.

Russia's Progress 60 freighter docked at 3:11 a.m. EDT (0711 GMT) Sunday, while the space station was 251 miles (404 kilometers) above the Pacific Ocean to the southeast of New Zealand. Astronauts aboard the orbiting lab will soon begin offloading the 6,100 lbs. (2,770 kilograms) of food, water, fuel and other supplies brought up by the vessel.

The mission of Progress 60, which launched early Friday morning (July 3), was more closely watched than most cargo runs to the space station, because the previous two such efforts were unsuccessful.

On June 28, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket exploded less than three minutes after liftoff, scuttling the California-based company's seventh resupply mission. (SpaceX holds a $1.6 billion NASA contract to make at least 12 such flights to the $100 billion orbiting outpost using the Falcon 9 and the unmanned Dragon capsule.)

And the Progress 59 vessel fell back to Earth in May, about nine days after experiencing a problem during launch. Investigators later traced the cause to an issue with the third stage of the Russian Soyuz rocket that lofted the freighter.

The space station is fairly well stocked despite these back-to-back mishaps: It had enough supplies to support crewmembers through October before Progress 60's arrival, NASA officials said in the wake of the Falcon 9 explosion.

Three people currently live and work aboard the orbiting lab: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka. Kelly and Kornienko are about three months into the first-ever yearlong mission aboard the station, which is designed to help pave the way for the lengthy journey to Mars.

Three more spaceflyers are scheduled to join this skeleton crew on July 22, bringing the station back up to full strength.

Another cargo vessel is slated to arrive relatively soon as well: If all goes according to plan, Japan's robotic H-2 Transfer Vehicle freighter will blast off on Aug. 16.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.