Image: Progress cargo ship
Out with the old, in with the new: This unmanned Progress cargo ship undocked from the International Space Station and was disposed of during atmospheric re-entry on Oct. 29 to make room for the spacecraft that arrived Wednesday.
updated 11/2/2011 11:34:23 AM ET 2011-11-02T15:34:23

An unmanned Russian cargo ship pulled up to the International Space Station on Wednesday carrying tons of fresh supplies for the orbiting lab's three-man crew in the first successful delivery mission since an August rocket crash.

The robotic Progress 45 spacecraft docked at the space station at 7:41 a.m. ET, ending a three-day trip that began with a smooth Sunday launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket. By coincidence, the cargo ship docked on the 11th anniversary of the arrival of the first space station crew, Expedition 1, in 2000. That mission began the station's unbroken streak of continued human presence in space.

The supplies aboard Progress 45 include 1,635 pounds (741 kilograms) of propellant for the space station's thrusters, 110 pounds (nearly 50 kilograms) of oxygen, 926 pounds (420 kilograms) of water and 3,108 pounds (1,409 kilograms) of other gear such as spare parts, maintenance equipment and experiment supplies.

The mission is Russia's first successful flight of a Progress cargo ship since an Aug. 24 Soyuz rocket crash that destroyed the Progress 44 cargo ship, due to a gas generator malfunction in the rocket's third stage. The Soyuz and its Progress 44 spaceship crashed in Siberia, Russian space officials said.

An investigation into the crash found that contamination in a gas generator fuel line or valve was the most likely cause of the crash. The malfunction was a rare failure in Russia's typically dependable Soyuz boosters. [Photos: Russia's Lost Cargo Ship Progress 44]

"After the accident during the launch of a Progress cargo vehicle a couple months ago, there's been some uncertainty in the program," NASA astronaut Mike Fossum said from the space station after Progress 45's successful launch. "This is a really huge step. This helps clear the rocket of any underlying problems, and so the next Soyuz crew has already gone to Baikonur."

The successful Progress 45 mission paves the way for a planned late-night Nov. 13 launch of three new space station crew members aboard a Soyuz rocket similar to that used to launch the robotic Progress spacecraft. Russia's Federal Space Agency had delayed the launch of the station's new crew to make sure its Soyuz rockets were safe for manned launches.

That delay in regular crew launches forced the space station to drop from its full six-person crew size down to a three-man staff. Space station managers also discussed the possibility of leaving the space station without a crew, if it became necessary.

The station's current crew — Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa —will return to Earth on Nov. 22 after handing control of the orbiting lab over to their replacements riding up on the Nov. 14 Soyuz launch.

Another three-person crew will launch in December, space station officials have said.

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"The December Soyuz mission will restore the space station crew size to six and continue normal crew rotations," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in a statement Sunday after the Progress 45 launch.

The Progress 45 cargo ship parked at the Earth-facing Pirs docking port on the bottom of the space station. Another older cargo ship, called Progress 42, was previously docked there, but left the space station on Oct. 29 to make room for Progress 45, NASA officials said.

Among other items, the newly arrived Russian space freighter delivered the first iPads to fly in space.

Russian space officials packed the two Apple iPads on the Progress 45 cargo ship as entertainment tablets for the space station crew. They are the first tablets of their kind ever sent to the space station, space station officials said.

The iPads join iPod music players and iPhone 4 devices already on the space station. The iPhone 4 devices were delivered by NASA space shuttle astronauts earlier this year and are loaded with an app to help astronauts perform experiments.

The next spacecraft to launch toward the space station will be the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft, carrying NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov. Liftoff is set for 11:14 p.m. ET on Nov. 13.

You can follow Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter@tariqjmalik. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter@Spacedotcomand onFacebook.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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