A Russiancargo ship carrying a vital payload of food and other supplies launched intospace today, beginning a two-day trip to resupply theInternational Space Station.
The supplyship, Progress 16, lifted off its launch pad atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket at5:19 p.m. EST (2219 GMT) during an on-time launch staged from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.Nine minutes later, the spacecraft separated from its rocket and successfullyentered orbit.
Today'ssuccessful launch marked the first stage in a vital resupplymission for the space station crew, ISS Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao and flight engineer SalizhanSharipov, who have cutback on their food intake due to shortened supplies. If Progress 16 doesnot dock successfully with the ISS on Saturday, Chiaoand Sharipov will be left with up to 14 days of food andwould evacuate the space station, NASA officials have said.
Progress 16is currently expected to dock at the space station's Zvezdaservice module at 6:31 p.m. EST (2331 GMT) on Dec. 25, though Chiao and Sharipov won't beginunloading the fresh shipment until Dec. 26.
About 2.5tons (2,268 kilograms) of cargo is packed aboard the Russian spacecraft, includinga 112-day supply of food, about 12 pounds of science hardware and 1,234 poundsof propellant for the ISS.
Thespacecraft is also carrying, the German-built Rockvissrobot to the orbital outpost, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. The robot, designed to be used to for repair workon the ISS exterior, will be managed via computers in the station's Zvezda service module and an aviation and space center inGermany, Interfax added.
While thenew Progress supply ship is primarily filled with practical cargo like food,water and other consumables, its anticipated Christmas arrival for the ISS crewwas not lost on mission controllers.
"There aregoing to be some good things and fun things in there too," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's ISS program manager at Johnson SpaceCenter in Houston, Texas,during a Dec. 9 prelaunch press conference.
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 10