New Russian supply ship docks at space station

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A new Russian cargo ship pulled up to the International Space Station Sunday to deliver a fresh load of food and supplies for the outpost's astronaut crew.

The unmanned Progress 39 space freighter docked at the space station right on time at 7:58 a.m. EDT (1158 GMT) as both spacecraft sailed about 216 miles (347 km) above Mongolia.

"We have contact," radioed Alexander Skvortsov, the station's cosmonaut commander, to Mission Control in Russia.

The automated Progress 39 cargo ship docked itself flawlessly with no need for Skvortsov and his crew to take remote control of the craft like they did with a previous Progress 38 supply ship in July when it failed to dock on the first try. The spacecraft parked itself at the aft end of the station's Russian Zvezda service module. [ Graphic: Inside and Out the International Space Station ]

Fresh food for astronauts
The Progress 39 spacecraft delivered about 2 1/2 tons of supplies to the space station's six-person crew when it arrived Sunday. It blasted off Friday atop a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The unmanned Progress spacecraft used by Russia's Federal Space Agency are similar in appearance to the agency's crew-carrying Soyuz vehicles. But the cargo ships carry a fuel pod in place of a crew capsule and are built to be disposable.

Packed aboard Progress 39 are about 1,918 pounds (870 kg) of propellant, 110 pounds (50 kg) of oxygen, 375 pounds (170 kg) of water and 2,645 pounds (1,200 kg) of spare parts, experiment gear and other vital supplies, NASA officials have said.

Space parking lot full
With Progress 39's arrival at the space station, the number of Russian spacecraft parked at the orbiting laboratory is now four. An older Progress 37 cargo ship and two Soyuz vehicles are docked to other ports on the station's Russian segment.

One of those Soyuz vehicles will depart the space station Sept. 23 to return Skvortsov and two other station crewmembers to Earth to end their six-month space mission.

The departing spaceflyers will leave behind three crewmates on the space station to finish their own staggered six-month mission. Another three crewmembers are due to launch toward the space station in early October.

Astronauts have been flying to the International Space Station on rotating missions since 2000. The $100 billion orbiting lab has been under construction since 1998 and is nearly complete, with the final assembly mission slated to fly in February 2011.

The next space shuttle mission, which will deliver a new storage room and humanoid robot assistant for the station crew, is slated to launch Nov. 1.