MOSCOW - A Russian cargo ship carrying 880 pounds of cables and other vital supplies blasted off Saturday for an orbital rendezvous with the crippled Mir space station.
The Progress M-35 cargo ship lifted off from the Baikonur space complex in the former Soviet republic of Kazakstan. It is set to dock with the Mir early Monday 250 miles above the Earth.
At Russia's Mission Control Center outside Moscow, officials clapped as they watched the Progress enter an orbit less than 10 minutes after takeoff, its trajectory tracked by a light on a giant wall map.
One of Progress' solar panels apparently did not unfold completely - but its energy supplies appeared normal and there was no cause for concern, said mission control director Vladimir Solovyov.
The 11-year-old Mir, damaged in a June 25 collision with a previous cargo ship, has been running on reduced power for the past 10 days.
"The Mir complex is in good shape and everything is working according to plan since we fixed the navigational system and climate control. The complex is ready for docking with Progress," Solovyov said.
The two Russians and one American on board the Mir also have fixed the main oxygen generator and the gyroscope system that orients the station and its solar batteries toward the sun.
To cheer up the crew, NASA sent them some of the impressive pictures coming from the red planet via the Mars Pathfinder.
Mir commander Vasily Tsibliyev now faces a delicate repair job on the depressurized Spektr module to return the station's energy supply to normal. That is set for July 17 or 18, though Solovyov said the dates remained tentative.
Frank Culbertson, who heads NASA's shuttle-Mir program, said at the Johnson Space Center in Houston that the crew might be endangered during the repairs by an unknown substance that spilled inside Spektr.
Earlier in the week, the cosmonauts reported seeing "something that looked like snowflakes" drifting into space from the dented Spektr radiator. That could be liquid from the radiator itself or from a burst scientific experiment inside Spektr, Culbertson said.
"We are very concerned about what's in that module, what might have ruptured and what the impact might be on the suited crew members," he said.
Culbertson said the crew would help decide when to begin the repairs, and that he was glad "that things are not in a rush."
The cargo ship will need two days before it can properly align itself with the Mir. Monday's docking, set for 10 a.m. Moscow time (2 a.m. EDT), will be scrutinized. Mir's Spektr module was punctured when the crew practiced docking with manual controls. This docking will be done automatically, though the crew can switch to manual if problems develop, Solovyov said.
The Progress is bringing 2.4 tons of cargo. That includes food, water, oxygen, repair supplies, 1,100 pounds of fuel, French scientific equipment for the next Russian-French crew and 154 pounds of personal gear and equipment for U.S. astronaut Michael Foale.
Almost all of his belongings, down to his toothbrush, are in the damaged Spektr module and it's not clear whether Tsibliyev will have time to salvage any of them when he goes inside.
The Spektr accident had drained air pressure. The crew had to seal Spektr from the rest of Mir to prevent full decompression, disconnecting power cables linking the module's solar batteries to the station's power system.
Tsibliyev plans to go into Spektr to reconnect cables from the solar batteries, running them through a new, custom-designed hatch that's being delivered by the cargo ship.
But the weightlessness of space, the bulky space suits, the lack of light and the module's web of wires and scattered scientific experiments make the venture extremely difficult.
"It can be accomplished, but it's going to be real tough," noted Viktor Ren, an official who headed a practice run on Friday. It was organized at the Cosmonauts Training Center outside Moscow with a life-size model of Spektr submerged in a 40-foot tank of water.
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