February 28, 2005

Russian Ship Blasts Off for Space Station

MOSCOW (AP) -- A Russian cargo ship blasted off Monday for the international space station, carrying food, equipment and other supplies, Mission Control said.

The unmanned Progress M-52 spacecraft lifted off as scheduled at 10:09 p.m. (2 p.m. EST) from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in the steppes of Kazakhstan, said Valery Lyndin, a spokesman for Mission Control in Korolyov just outside Moscow.

It entered orbit 124 miles above the Earth about nine minutes later, Lyndin said in a telephone interview.

"The launch went on without a hitch," Lyndin said.

The spacecraft, which is set to dock with the station on Wednesday, carries about 2.75 tons of food, water, fuel and research equipment for Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov and U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao, who have been on the station since October.

Along with other cargo, it has 50 snails intended for biological experiments. The cargo also includes some movies, CDs and other personal items for the crew.

Russian Soyuz crew capsules and Progress cargo ships have been the only link to the space station since the U.S. shuttle fleet was grounded after the Columbia burned up as it returned to Earth in February 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard. NASA has said it plans to resume shuttle flights as early as May.