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Capsule docks with Space Station

Russia would welcome financial help from the United States to fund the program.
Russia would welcome financial help from the United States to fund the program.

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ALMATY, Kazakhstan (Reuters) -- A Russian cargo space capsule, the only remaining supply lifeline to the International Space Station, has successfully docked with the outpost manned by a U.S.-Russian crew, a spokeswoman for Mission Control said.

"The Progress cargo rocket docked with the station five minutes ahead of schedule, at 0740 Moscow time (0340 GMT), but there is nothing extraordinary in this.," the spokeswoman told Reuters by telephone from Mission Control outside Moscow.

"Everything is fine, even excellent, I would say."

Russia has borne the brunt of manned flights and supplies to the $95-billion, 16-nation ISS since the U.S. space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas in February, killing all seven astronauts on board and grounding the three remaining Shuttles.

The Progress rocket, Earth's only supply link now to the International Space Station, took off for the ISS on Friday, ferrying food, water, fuel and oxygen.

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The cargo of 2,566 kg (5,130 pounds) delivered to American Edward Lu and Russia's Yuri Malenchenko, manning the outpost since late April, also included French and Russian comedy films, CDs with Russian Cossack songs, chocolate, fresh fruit and, more importantly, a satellite telephone.

The previous, three-member U.S.-Russian ISS crew landed hundreds of miles off target in the endless Kazakh steppe last May due to a technical glitch, and rescuers spent hours on a gruelling search for the astronauts who had no communications.

Financial help

Russian rockets that ferry supplies and crews to the ISS have a startling reliability rate of up to 99 percent. And space experts say the ISS programme had been originally designed in such a way that either Russia or the United States can carry the burden of maintaining the station singly, if necessary.

But senior Russian space officials say that while Moscow is coping with the technological part of the costly programme, it would welcome strong financial assistance from Washington.

NASA officials have so far estimated that next March or April is the soonest the Shuttle can fly again.

Earlier this month, an investigation into the disaster published a damning report on safety standards at U.S. space agency NASA whose Shuttles had long ferried astronauts to and from the space station.

The Progress also delivered scientific equipment for experiments by Spain's Pedro Duque, who will go up with U.S. astronaut Mike Foale and Russia's Alexander Kaleri in October.

Duque will return to Earth a week later with Lu and Malenchenko at the end of their six-month stint in space.

Russian cosmonaut Malenchenko managed a space first earlier this month by marrying his earth-bound fiancee by space phone.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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