A cargo ship carrying 1.5 tons of supplies to the Mir space station, including specially requested fresh lemons, lifted off successfully Friday from the former Soviet republic of Kazakstan.
The unmanned Progress M-39 cargo ship blasted off at 2:13 a.m. Moscow time today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It's scheduled to dock with the Mir on Sunday, said Vera Medvedkova, a spokeswoman for the Mission Control.The spacecraft will deliver the usual cargo of fuel, water and other supplies along with mail from relatives of the Mir's Russian cosmonauts, Talgat Musabayev and Nikolai Budarin, and NASA astronaut Andrew Thomas.
The Russian crew had a special request this time - fresh lemons, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
As usual, space officials expect the Progress to dock with Mir in an automatic mode, but the crew is prepared to go manual if necessary. Autopilot failures have occurred on several occasions, most recently in March.
The previous Progress cargo ship, which is still attached to the Mir, will be discarded and allowed to burn in the atmosphere to free a place for the new ferry.
Next month, Russian space officials expect to fire the engines on the cargo ship, and that will begin to lower Mir's orbit - the first stage of preparations for discarding the space outpost around the end of 1999.
However, officials have said that Mir may stay longer in orbit if there are delays with a new international space station. The first parts of the station are to go into orbit later this year, and the first crew is expected to arrive next year.
Yuri Koptev, the director general of the Russian Space Agency, said today that construction of the new station was likely to be delayed six months. Project participants are to meet in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 31 to decided on a construction schedule.