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Russian cargo ship takes off for space station

A Russian Soyuz rocket climbs away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, boosting a Progress cargo ship into orbit for a two-day rendezvous with the International Space Station. The spacecraft is carrying three tons of propellant, supplies and equipment to the lab complex.

NASA/Roscosmos

A Russian Progress cargo ship carrying three tons of supplies and equipment blasted off from Kazakhstan early Tuesday and set off after the International Space Station.

The Soyuz 2-1a booster carrying the Progress MS-08/69P cargo craft took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. EST (GMT-5; 2:13 p.m. local time), streaking away through a cold, overcast sky and climbing directly into the plane of the space station's orbit.

The launch came two days after a last-minute abort Sunday that prevented the Russians from attempting what would have been their first two-orbit rendezvous with the station, a fast-track set of maneuvers requiring launch at a precise moment when the plane of the station's orbit and the launch site are in the proper orientation.

A similar malfunction at almost the same point in the countdown stopped a Progress launch last October that would have been the first to test the two-orbit rendezvous profile. As it now stands, the test will be deferred to a downstream mission when orbital mechanics permits.

In any case, Tuesday's climb to orbit went smoothly and eight minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff, the Progress separated from its upper stage booster. A few seconds after that, its two solar panels and navigation antennas unfolded and locked in place d as planned.

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The view from an on-board camera moments after the Progress supply ship reached orbit.

NASA/Roscosmos

If all goes well, the Progress will execute a traditional 34-orbit rendezvous, catching up with the space station early Thursday and docking at the aft port of the Russian Zvezda module at 5:43 a.m.

The spacecraft is loaded with 1,940 pounds of propellant to help raise the station's orbit, about 100 pounds of oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 3,128 pounds of dry cargo, including spare parts and science gear.

Next up for the Russians is the return of three station crew members aboard the Soyuz MS-06/52S spacecraft Feb. 27, bringing outgoing station commander Alexander Misurkin and two NASA astronauts, Mark Vande Hei and Joseph Acaba, back to a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan to close out a 166-day stay in space.

Their replacements -- Soyuz MS-08/54S commander Oleg Artemyev, Ricky Arnold and Andrew Feustel -- are scheduled for launch from Baikonur on March 15, docking at the space station's Poisk module two days later. They will boost the lab's crew back to six, joining Expedition 55 commander Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and Japanese physician-astronaut Norishige Kanai.

  • William Harwood

    Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He covered 129 space shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia."