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“We’ve always known this was a risk, and I very much expect that we’ll, together with our Russian colleagues, sort out the anomaly and get comfortable with the next flight.”

Suffredini was in his office at Johnson Space Center in Houston, awaiting email confirmation that the cargo ship safely had reached orbit. That message never came. Instead, “phones started ringing and emails started pouring in” saying something had gone wrong, he said.

It was the 44th launch of a Progress supply ship to the space station _ and the first failure in the nearly 13-year life of the complex. The spacemen were notified promptly of the accident; almost assuredly, the lost vessel contained notes and gifts from their wives and children, as well as special treats like fresh food.

Another Russian supply ship is due to launch in late October. A European freighter is scheduled to blast off with supplies in March, and a Japanese one in May. The space station easily could go until then, Suffredini said.

A demonstration flight of the first commercial resupply craft, meanwhile, is due to blast off from Cape Canaveral at the end of November. Space Explorations Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, will have its Dragon capsule dock with the space station; only nonessential cargo will be on board.

There was no one-of-a-kind equipment aboard the destroyed Progress, Suffredini said. More than half the load was water, oxygen and fuel.

Suffredini said it’s unfortunate the space shuttles retired before these commercial cargo runs were in full swing. But given the limited amount of money available, the decision was made for NASA to concentrate on the next step in exploration _ trips by astronauts to an asteroid and Mars.

That’s why one extra resupply mission by Atlantis was added before the shuttle program ended, Suffredini noted, just in case of launch failures or delays.


Jim Heintz reported from Moscow.