Soyuz Rocket Lofts Progress Freighter Toward ISS

By Jim Banke
September 25, 2002

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome today carrying a fresh load of fuel and supplies for the humans working and living aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Packed inside an unmanned Progress freighter, the spacecraft achieved orbit about eight minutes after an on-time launch at 12:58 p.m. EDT (1658 GMT), NASA officials reported Wednesday.

Flying a fuel-conserving approach, it will take four days for the Progress to catch up with the space station. It is the ninth in the series of robotic supply missions that helps keep the ISS's occupants alive and well.

Docking with the Zvezda service module is expected at 1:07 p.m. EDT (1707 GMT) Sunday, Sept. 29.

The current Expedition Five crew of Valery Korzun, Sergei Treschev and Peggy Whitson will begin unpacking the cargo ship almost immediately. They are likely to find a few surprises of fresh food, and the two Russian cosmonauts also will find paperwork to fill out so they are counted in Russia's current census.

Most of the fuel and supplies aboard Progress, however, will be stowed away for use by the Expedition Six crew, which is scheduled to relive the current crew in November.

Also aboard the Progress 9 spacecraft is a small plant growth chamber called Lada, which was developed by the Utah State University Research Foundation's Space Dynamics Laboratory.

Named for the ancient Russian goddess of spring, Lada will be positioned inside the space station and used to grow fresh vegetables and other plants. One feature of the device is that by using sensors it can automatically control the amount of moisture that the plant roots are exposed to.

The Utah experiment was developed in partnership with Russia's Institute for Biological and Medical Problems.

The Lada growth chamber is patterned after the Svet style greenhouse that was used for seven experiments on the Russian space station Mir between 1990 and 2000, except it has lower volume and power requirements.

"A unique feature of this plan is to allow the crew access to Lada to grow vegetables to supplement meals, or for recreational gardening when it is not being used for scientific experiments," said Gail Bingham, a Lada program manager.

Mizuna, a plant similar to lettuce and native to Russia, will be the first plant grown in Lada. It is a tall plant that can grow to eight inches in three weeks. Shorter, slower growing plants -- such as tomato, pepper and rice -- also can be planted.

In order to make way for the new ship, Progress 8 undocked from the station at 9:59 a.m. EDT (1359 GMT) on Tuesday.

Loaded with trash and unneeded equipment, Progress 8 was sent into a parking orbit for about two weeks. Russian scientists want to use its onboard cameras to observe smoke and smog in northeastern Russian before the craft is sent on its suicide dive into Earth's atmosphere to burn up.

With this launch out of the way, the next space shot into Earth orbit is expected on Thursday when a Kosmos-3M rocket is to carry a Russian navigation satellite into orbit from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Liftoff is expected at 10:27 a.m. EDT (1427 GMT).