Since the Space Shuttle retired, Russian Soyuz rockets are the only way for crews and supplies to travel to and from the International Space Station (ISS). That’s why today’s successful launch of an unmanned Progress resupply ship via a Soyuz rocket – at 10:11 UTC (5:11 a.m. CDT) on Sunday, October 20, 2011 – caused many to heave a sign of relief.
One imagines that goes double for those orbiting in the International Space Station itself, and those slated to go up in November 2011, since the success of today’s launch points to the resumption of manned flights to ISS later this year.
The worrying began on August 24, 2011 when an unmanned Russian Progress spacecraft – a cargo ship headed for the International Space Station (ISS) – crashed shortly after take-off. The crash of the unmanned craft followed a malfunction in the Soyuz booster rocket meant to propel it to space. After August’s crash, all future manned flights were grounded.
Today’s launch of another unmanned Russian Progress cargo ship – designated Progress 45 – marks the first successful Progress launch since the August crash. Progress 45 blasted off successfully aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
ISS and its crew were never in any danger, space officials said. The space station was fully stocked with supplies, and a Russian spacecraft is currently docked at the station. But there was a possibility that NASA and the other ISS member nations would have to bring the current ISS crew back to Earth before new crew could be sent up, leaving the space station unmannned and ending 10 years of continuous habitation in space. Today’s successful launch makes that possibility seem remote.
Bottom line: An unmanned Progress resupply ship – designed Progress 45 – was lifted to space via a Soyuz rocket earlier today. Lift-off took place at 10:11 UTC (5:11 a.m. CDT) on Sunday, October 20, 2011. The craft is headed for the International Space Station with supplies. This successful launch makes it unlikely that the International Space Station will go unmanned, as some feared after the crash of a similar unmanned Progress cargo ship in August 2011.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.