Russia Cargo Ship Docks at Space Station

A Russian cargo ship carrying food and supplies docked at the international space station Saturday, just weeks before a new crew arrives.

The unmanned Progress M-54 ship, which lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan two days ago, hooked up with the orbiting station at 10:42 a.m. EDT, said Valery Lyndyn, a spokesman for the Russian space agency.

The ship docked automatically, Lyndyn said, unlike the previous Progress docking in June during which Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev had to manually steer the craft. The spacecraft are guided by autopilot on their approach to the station and during docking, but the crew is trained to operate them manually in case of computer or communications problems.

Once the Progress is safely secured, the station's two-man crew _ Krikalev and U.S. astronaut John Phillips _ will unload the nearly 2.8 tons of fuel, food and water, along with a replacement cartridge for the orbiter's oxygen generator.

The crew is in its last month on the station. A two-man replacement crew is scheduled to head to the station Oct. 1, along with an American scientist-businessman, Gregory Olsen, who is paying the Russian space agency $20 million for a weeklong visit.

Russia's Progress cargo ships and Soyuz crew capsules were the only link to the international space station following the grounding of the U.S. shuttle fleet after the Columbia shuttle disaster in February 2003 that killed all seven astronauts aboard, Washington Post reported.

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