Image: Soyuz launch
AP
A Russian Soyuz-U rocket rises from its launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrom in Kazakhstan early Thursday local time, sending a Progress cargo ship toward the international space station.
By Senior editor
updated 5/14/2008 8:46:47 PM ET 2008-05-15T00:46:47

An unmanned Russian cargo ship launched into orbit Wednesday crammed with fresh supplies for astronauts aboard the international space station.

The Progress 29 space freighter successfully lifted off atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket at 4:22 p.m. ET from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to begin a two-day trek. The cargo ship is due to dock Friday at the space station, where the outpost's three-man crew is eagerly awaiting its arrival.

"The Progress 29 spacecraft is carrying to the crew the usual manifest of clothing, supplies and other cargo, which they are definitely looking forward to," said NASA spokesman Josh Byerly of the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The spacecraft launched on time and reached orbit 10 minutes later, NASA officials told Space.com. It is scheduled to dock at an Earth-facing port on the station's Russian-built Zarya control module at about 5:30 p.m. ET Friday.

Progress 29, known by the designation M-64 in Russia, is hauling more than two tons of supplies to the space station for Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and flight engineers Oleg Kononenko and Garrett Reisman. Tucked inside the spacecraft's cargo hold are 770 pounds (350 kilograms) of propellant for the station's thrusters, more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of oxygen and air, as well as 925 pounds (420 kilograms) of water, NASA officials said.

The spacecraft is also carrying about 2,850 pounds (1,292 kilograms) of dry supplies, which Russia's Federal Space Agency has said includes about 568 pounds (258 kilograms) of food, 277 pounds (126 kilograms) of medicine and 282 pounds (128 kilograms) of hygiene items, according to the country's Interfax news agency.

A contingent of 90 snails is also making the trip to the space station as part of an experiment to study the effects of weightlessness on living organisms, Interfax reported. (Itar-Tass reported that this was the seventh and last batch of snails being sent to the station as part of a three-year experiment. The snails are to live aboard the station for five months and will then be returned to Earth for study.)

In a televised interview earlier this week, Volkov said that he and his crew are looking forward to Progress 29's arrival. He spent some of his time working with a remote docking system that would allow him to take control of the Progress freighter should its own automated rendezvous systems fail.

Russia's disposable Progress cargo ships are similar in appearance to the country's three-segment Soyuz spacecraft that ferry new astronaut crews to and from the space station every six months. But unlike the Soyuz, Progress freighters are ultimately filled with trash or other unneeded items and jettisoned to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere at the end of their missions.

Volkov and his crew are also preparing for the arrival of NASA's space shuttle Discovery, which is currently slated to dock June 2 to deliver a new Japanese laboratory the size of a school bus.

Discovery and its seven-astronaut crew are slated to launch toward the station on May 31.

This report was supplemented by msnbc.com.

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