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The first post-shuttle era launch of a Russian Progress re-supply ship for the International Space Station has apparently failed. Controllers at the mission control center in Korylov lost contact with the ship six minutes into the flight. This is the first time since 1978 that this normally reliable ship has failed to deliver its cargo to space, and this could have dire consequences for the space station program. If the ship cannot be recovered and docked to the ISS, not only are the supplies lost, but planned re-boosts of the ISS in its orbit will not occur. This could also affect future Progress — as well as Soyuz launches for crew exchange — until the cause of the failure is known. Without the space shuttle, the Soyuz is the only way to bring humans to the space station.
UPDATE: The Russian cargo spaceship Progress M-12M has reportedly crashed to Earth in eastern Russia, Interfax is now reporting, saying that the crash did not cause any destruction on the ground as it fell in an unpopulated area in the Choisk region of the Republic of Altai.
Via Twitter, @NASASpaceflight (NASASpaceflight.com) is reporting that the Russians have confirmed that the spacecraft failed to separate and the Progress M-12M is still attached to Upper Stage. It can’t fire its thrusters, as is required. Conflicting news reports via Twitter make it unclear whether the craft reached orbit. (update — it’s now clear that the Progress did not reach orbit, as it has crashed in eastern Russia).
The InterFax news agency is reporting an “emergency situation” occurred during launch. Liftoff of the Soyuz rocket took place at 9:00 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This was Russia’s 44th Progress cargo supply mission to the space station.
“It is practically the first time in the history of domestic human flight that the launch of a cargo ship did not go regularly. There has been nothing of the kind with the Progresses since 1978,” a spokesman said on InterFax.
UPDATE: NASA has now posted on their website that 5 minutes and 50 seconds after launch, Mission Control Houston received a report of an “off-nominal situation” during the rocket’s third and final stage.
We’ll provide more details as they become available.