Cargo ship launched to space station

/ Source: The Associated Press

Russia successfully launched a cargo spacecraft Tuesday loaded with fuel, food and mail for the Russian-American crew of the international space station, an official at mission control said.

The Progress M-49 craft lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz-U rocket at 8:34 a.m. ET, spokeswoman Vera Medvedkova said.

The Progress later shed its rocket stages and entered orbit, the Interfax news agency quoted space officials as saying. It is scheduled to dock with the station Wednesday at 9:55 a.m. ET.

The ship is carrying nearly 3 tons of cargo, Medvedkova said. Its payload also includes water, air and equipment for scientific experiments as well as clothing for the two crewmen and mail from their relatives.

Russian commander Gennady Padalka and American flight engineer Mike Fincke arrived April 21 for a six-month stint at the station, whose assembly has been on hold since the space shuttle Columbia disaster in February 2003.

Since the tragedy, the Russian Progress and Soyuz craft have been the only lifelines to the space station. If the current resupply mission fails, NASA and the Russians would have to consider a scenario in which Padalka and Fincke would leave the station and come back to Earth in their Soyuz emergency capsule.