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Russia Launches Unmanned Rocket to Deliver Cargo to Space Station

Russia has launched an unmanned cargo ship on a flight to the International Space Station (ISS), one day after the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia broke-up on re-entry, leaving no survivors.

Russia's Progress cargo ship will deliver fuel, equipment, food and packages for the crew of three one Russian and two Americans who are aboard the orbiting international space station.

The long-planned cargo launch occurs as shocked Russian space officials offer their condolences to their American counterparts. The Russians have also offered any interim assistance the United States may need.

NASA had planned to expand the international space station during five shuttle flights this year. But after Saturday's disaster, those plans have been put on hold until officials learn what caused the Columbia to break up over Texas.

Russian space officials say they are ready to pick up the slack by sending crews and shipments to the station aboard Russian spacecraft.

But it is no secret that Russia's space program is underfinanced and overburdened by aging equipment. Also, U.S. shuttles can carry far greater payloads than Russian Progress supply ships.

Russia has been concentrating the little resources it has for its space program on the U.S. led International Space Station project. Russia had to abandon its Mir space station in March 2001 for lack of funding.

Some of Russia's most celebrated space experts say the Columbia disaster will no doubt affect the International Space Station program in the near and long-term. But they say cosmonauts and astronauts are one big family and will get through the tragedy together.