Image: Russian cargo ship
RSC Energia
The Russian cargo ship, shown here before its launch, is now heading toward the international space station, which it will stock up with clothing, food and other vital supplies.
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updated 8/2/2007 6:48:21 PM ET 2007-08-02T22:48:21

A Russian cargo ship blasted into space Thursday to ferry fresh food, clothing and other vital supplies to astronauts aboard the international space station.

The unmanned Progress 26 spacecraft launched atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket at about 1:34 p.m. EDT from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan in Central Asia, according to Russian news reports. Tucked inside the space freighter's hold are more than 2.5 tons of supplies, which Progress 26 is expected deliver to the station's three-astronaut Expedition 15 crew during a planned Aug. 5 rendezvous.

Progress 26 is due to arrive at the space station's Russian-built Pirs docking compartment Sunday at about 2:38 p.m. EDT, NASA officials said.

Once docked, the station's Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineers Oleg Kotov and Clayton Anderson will prepare to unload the some 5,111 pounds of supplies from the unmanned cargo ship.

Progress 26 is laden with 1,600 pounds of propellant, more than 100 pounds of oxygen and air, as well as over 496 pounds of water. The cargo ship is also packed with about 2,954 pounds of dry cargo, ranging from food and clothing to spare parts and science equipment.

Bob Dempsey, NASA's lead ISS flight director for Expedition 15, said Progress 26 was also expected to haul new computers for the space station's Russian-built Zvezda service module. The new machines will be used to replace some of six vital computers controlling the station's Russian navigation and command systems, he said, adding that the repair could occur after NASA's Endeavour shuttle crew arrives at the orbital laboratory next week.

The current Russian navigation and command system computers aboard the ISS crashed in June during NASA's STS-117 shuttle mission. The glitch shut down some Russian life support and navigation systems, leaving the station dependent on its U.S. counterparts and the visiting Atlantis orbiter for attitude control. Yurchikhin and Kotov, working with engineers on Earth, developed a fix using jumper cables to bypass faulty hardware within each of the six computers.

The Thursday launch of Progress 26 comes one day after the ISS crew jettisoned a previous cargo ship, Progress 24, from the Pirs docking port to clear a berth for the incoming spacecraft. The Expedition 15 crew is also preparing to work with NASA's seven-astronaut STS-118 crew aboard the shuttle Endeavour, currently set to launch on Aug. 7, to continue ISS assembly.

Commanded by veteran shuttle flyer Scott Kelly, Endeavour will haul even more cargo and spare parts to the ISS, as well as a new starboard-side addition to the station's backbone-like main truss.

The up-to-14-day spaceflight will also mark the first flight of educator astronaut Barbara Morgan, who served as backup for NASA's first Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe. McAuliffe and six NASA astronauts were aboard the Challenger orbiter when it broke up just after launch in January 1986.

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