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Watch Russia Launch Its Fastest Space Station Cargo Flight Yet on Thursday!
A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying the Progress 68 cargo ship stands atop its launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan ahead of a scheduled Oct. 12, 2017 launch. The spacecraft will make a 3.5-hour flight to the International Space Station.
Credit: RSC Energia

The Russian space agency Roscosmos is about to make history with its fastest cargo flight ever to the International Space Station, launching early Thursday (Oct. 12), and you can watch it live online.

Roscosmos will launch a Souyuz rocket carrying the robotic cargo ship Progress 38 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kasakhstan at 5:32 a.m. EDT (0932 GMT). The cargo ship's superfast trip will bring it to the orbiting lab at 8:56 a.m. EDT (1256 GMT). Total elapsed time from launch to docking will be 3 hours, 24 minutes. You can watch the launch live here, courtesy of NASA TV, beginning at 5:15 a.m. EDT (0915 GMT).

Russia's uncrewed Progress space vehicles are workhorse freighters for the International Space Station. Until recent years, the vehicles, took about two days to reach the space station, as do the crewed Soyuz space capsules that have a similar appearance.

But in 2013, Roscosmos cut that flight time for Progress vehicles — and later, the crewed Soyuz capsules — down to about 6 hours, with the spacecraft orbiting Earth four times on their way to the International Space Station. During Thursday's flight, Progress 68 will complete just two orbits of Earth before linking up with the space station. If successful, the streamlined flight plan could cut the time it takes astronauts and cosmonauts to reach the station on future flights, NASA officials said.

"They're starting with cargo," NASA spokesman Gary Jordan told of the Roscosmos flight plan. "Eventually, if everything checks out, it could be transferred to crew launches."

Progress 68 is packed with nearly 3 tons (2.7 metric tons) of food, fuel and supplies for the Expedition 53 crew on the International Space Station. The crew consists of U.S. astronauts Randy Bresnik, Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei (all of NASA); Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy; and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency.

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