Image: Progress 26 resupply craft
NASA
Pictured is the Progress 26 resupply craft launched Aug. 2, 2007 in Kazakhstan. A similar robotic cargo ship called Progress 38 was slated to dock at the space station today but flew past.
updated 7/2/2010 2:06:39 PM ET 2010-07-02T18:06:39

An unmanned Russian cargo ship sailed past the International Space Station instead of docking on autopilot, as engineers on Earth struggle to determine what went wrong.

A telemetry lock between the Russian-made Progress module and the space station was lost and the module flew past at a safe distance. NASA said the crew was never in danger and that the supplies are not critical and will not affect station operations.

NASA said that it will not attempt another docking today. Russian flight controllers don't know yet what caused the failure in the unmanned modules automated docking system.

The robotic cargo ship Progress 38 was slated to dock at the space station at 12:58 p.m. ET (1658 GMT) but lost its navigational lock on the orbiting lab about 25 minutes before the rendezvous. 

"The Progress literally flew past the station, but at a safe distance from the outpost," NASA commentator Rob Navias said. "The station crew reported seeing the Progress drift beyond their view, as they worked to reestablish telemetry with the spacecraft."

The Progress 38 spacecraft flew by the space station at a distance of several kilometers (a couple miles) away, posing no threat of impact. But because of its orbit, there may not be a second chance to dock the spacecraft by remote control today, Navias said.

Known in Russia as Progress M-06M, the new Progress 38 spacecraft is packed with nearly 2.5 tons of fresh food, clothes, equipment and other supplies for the space station's six-person crew. It launched Wednesday from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Packed aboard the spacecraft are 1,918 pounds of propellant for the station, 110 pounds of oxygen, 220 pounds of water and 2,667 pounds of dry cargo — which includes spare parts, science equipment and other supplies.

Russia's disposable Progress spacecraft are similar in appearance to the three-module Soyuz space taxis that ferry crews to and from the space station.

Both vehicles have a propulsion and orbital module, however Progress vehicles do not have a crew-carrying module like the Soyuz ships. Instead, Progress vehicles are equipped with a propellant module to store fuel for the space station's maneuvering thrusters.

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Video: Unmanned cargo ship misses ISS

  1. Closed captioning of: Unmanned cargo ship misses ISS

    >>> we are learning about some trouble at the international space station today and this involves an unmanned russian supply ship . joining me live via skype, jay barberie, covers all things nasa and space-related for us. what happened here?

    >> alex, about an hour and a half ago this russian ship was approaching, coming in to dock with the international space station . they have done this hundreds of times before. but they lost thalimetry with it, communications. they moved it away from the space station . it is about six miles away . the six people on board are not in any danger, are not in any danger. they simply will not try to redock again today. they'll see what their problems are. but unfortunately, years ago here in the mir space station , they had one of these unmanned spacecraft , hit the mir, crashed into it, almost killed the crew. they had all kinds of problems with it and, alex, that's why senator john glenn , the famous american who first went into orbit for this country, he came out last week and told the administration they should not cancel the shuttle program until they have another spaceship because if something like this should happen, and the astronauts had to abandon the space station , then after about six months, it would probably come back through the atmosphere and could do a lot of damage and kill a lot of people on the surface of the planet. this is just an example of that. and that's a question why that the space shuttles are being grounded, if you will, after a year, and we will not have a spacecraft to do anything, to keep this in orbit probably for several years.

    >> let's just go, though, to that nightmare scenario you portrayed, there is no chance of that happening now, right?

    >> no docking today and no chance that these astronauts will be in any danger.

    >> all right. that's news we

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