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When you’re cruising along in low-Earth orbit, running out of supplies is not an option. Fortunately there are Progress vehicles: Russian spacecraft that carry much-needed supplies and equipment to the astronauts aboard the Space Station.
The photo above, taken by Expedition 30 crew members, shows the unmanned Progress 46 vehicle approaching the ISS on January 27, 2012.
Progress 46 carried 2,050 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 2,778 pounds of parts and experiment hardware, for a total of 2.9 tons of food, fuel and equipment for the Expedition 30 crew.
The Progress is similar in appearance and design to Soyuz spacecraft, which serve as human transportation to and from the Space Station, but differs in that the second of the spacecraft’s three sections (as prior to launch) is a refueling module, and the third uppermost section is a cargo module.
In addition to bringing supplies to the ISS, Progress vehicles also serve as – for lack of a better term – “garbage trucks”, undocking from the Station loaded with trash and re-entering the atmosphere, during which time much of the refuse inside gets incinerated.
Progress 46 successfully docked to the Space Station at 7:09 p.m. (EST) on Jan. 27, 2012.