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Russian spaceship fails to reach orbit after launch

August 24, 2011 | 12:41 pm


An unmanned Russian cargo space capsule carrying nearly 3 tons of supplies to the International Space Station failed to reach orbit Wednesday and crashed soon afterward, according to NASA.

The capsule, named Progress 44, was fixed atop a Soyuz rocket that blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan around 6 a.m. PDT. Mission Control Moscow reported that communication with the craft was lost 5 minutes, 20 seconds after launch.

“We'll try to figure out what has happened and what the cause was,” said Maxim Matuchen, the head of the Russian Mission Control Center told Russian cosmonauts aboard the space station.

Progress 44 was carrying 2.9 tons of food, fuel and supplies for the space station. It has not been disclosed where the capsule crashed or whether there were casualties.

The failed launch is the first since the U.S. and Russia began putting the space station together in 1998. And it is the first resupply mission since the NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles.

The last shuttle mission ended in July. Now NASA plans to send astronauts to the station aboard Russian rockets, shelling out $63 million per seat.

NASA wants private companies to one day take astronauts to the station, but those spaceships aren't yet ready. The space agency also has plans to build a new launch system to send humans on deep space missions, including an effort to land on an asteroid by the mid-2020s.

On the last shuttle mission, space shuttle Atlantis delivered a year’s worth of supplies to the station. That’s good news for the six people now aboard the space station, which include two U.S. astronauts.

NASA had planned to air footage of Progress 44 docking with the station.

On its website the space agency said: “International Space Station Program Manager Michael Suffredini held a news conference at the Johnson Space Center discussing the loss of the resupply vehicle and the impact it may have on the program and the crew. There are plenty of supplies to support the crew, and the station is in a good configuration. However, a Russian commission will be formed to investigate the root cause of the vehicle loss which may affect upcoming Russian spacecraft launches.”


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-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: In this image made from Rossiya 24 television channel, a Soyuz rocket booster carrying Progress supply ship is launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Associated Press / Rossiya 24 TV Channel