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Russian Ship Heads for International Space Station - 2004-01-29

A Russian cargo ship carrying supplies and equipment for the International Space Station has blasted off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan Thursday.

Mission Control outside Moscow says the Russian Progress cargo craft lifted off successfully from the launch site in Kazakhstan, loaded with food, fuel and water for the two-man crew at the International Space Station.

The cargo ship will also deliver equipment, including a spare hose to replace one that caused a slow air leak aboard the orbiting outpost earlier this month. The air leak led to a drop in air pressure that has since been stabilized.

The current occupants of the space station are the U.S. astronaut, Michael Foale and Russian cosmonaut, Alexander Kaleri.

Among other equipment to be delivered to the ISS, after the ship's expected docking on Saturday, are two mannequins especially designed to study the impact of radiation in space.

Scientists say such studies are essential for planning future manned space missions to the moon and Mars, like the one U.S. President Bush proposed earlier this month.

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Bush announced plans to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020 in preparation for manned missions to Mars and beyond.

Russian space officials have said they would be interested in cooperating with the United States on the planned missions, but are concerned about costs.

The head of Russia's space program, Yury Koptev, has also expressed frustration that the United States has yet to give a date for the resumption of U.S. shuttle flights to the International Space Station. A U.S. Space Agency's web site says the next shuttle flight won't take place before mid-September.

NASA grounded the shuttle early last year after the U.S. Shuttle Colombia disintegrated on reentry into Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.

Russia has been handling all cargo and manned flights to and from the ISS ever since.