- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia’s space agency said Tuesday that it has postponed the launch of the next manned Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station until Nov. 12, just days before the remaining astronauts on the orbiting laboratory are due to return to Earth.

The launch schedule for manned Russian missions has been thrown into disarray by the Aug. 24 crash of an unmanned Soyuz supply craft. Since the phasing out of the shuttle, NASA has come to rely entirely on Russia to get its crew to the international space station.

The August accident delayed the next mission, because the upper stage of the unmanned rocket carrying the Progress supply ship that failed was similar to that used to launch astronauts.

That 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.

Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, said in a statement that another manned Soyuz launch is scheduled for Dec. 20.

There are six astronauts now aboard the station that orbits 220 miles (350 kilometers) above the Earth. They are due to return to Earth in two landings _ one Friday and another after mid-November.

Roscosmos also set tentative dates for the launch of two more Progress supply ships _ Oct. 30 and Jan. 26.

The agency has said that last month’s accident would have no adverse influence on the International Space Station crew, because their existing supplies of food, water and oxygen are sufficient.

Still, nerves will likely be frayed during the next few launches because glitches could affect the future of the space station.

Russia has lost four spacecraft over past 10 months. In December, a rocket and its payload of three communications satellites fell into the Pacific Ocean after failing to reach orbit. A military satellite was lost in February, and in mid-August the Express-AM4, described by officials as Russia’s most powerful telecommunications satellite, was lost.


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