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Sunday, 2 February, 2003, 13:30 GMT
Russian rocket blasts off for ISS
Soyuz rocket prepared for launch
Soyuz rockets are used to bring supplies to the ISS crew
An unmanned Russian cargo rocket, headed for the International Space Station (ISS), has been launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as planned.

The Russians had already made clear that, despite the Columbia space shuttle disaster in the US, they would go ahead with their launch.

The Progress M-47 blasted off at 1259 GMT from the Baikonur facility, which Russia leases from the ex-Soviet Central Asian state.

Don Pettit, Ken Bowersox and Nikolai Budarin
There are two Americans and one Russian aboard the ISS
The vessel, which is controlled from the ground, is set to bring supplies to the three-man crew aboard the ISS - two Americans and one Russian.

The ISS team, called Expedition Six, arrived at the space station for a four-month mission in early December aboard US space shuttle Endeavour. They have enough supplies to last them until June.

Analysts say the fate of the space station, which has been manned since 2000, is now an immediate concern.

The space shuttles are a vital supply and construction link to it and future trips may be in jeopardy until the cause of Saturday's disaster has been determined.

"It's absolutely obvious that shuttle flights will be stopped, possibly for some years, until the final determination of the cause of the Columbia accident," Sergei Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency (RSA), was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Two of the five shuttles - Columbia and Challenger - have now been lost, which leaves three still in service - Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour.

A BBC space correspondent says that when the first of them, Challenger, was lost, in 1986, it forced a fundamental rethink of space policy in the United States.

But our correspondent says the loss of Columbia will force a reassessment throughout the world.

Russia's last accident with a manned craft came in 1971 when it lost three astronauts in a Soyuz-11 craft on re-entry.

ISS future

The Russian space programme has concentrated its meagre resources on the 16-nation ISS, and has sought to earn money by taking "space tourists" to the station.

All future plans must now be reviewed and experts must decide if the station can remain operational or if it must be mothballed.

It is vital to analyse what happened and eliminate problems in order to ensure safe flights for ISS crews

James Newman
Nasa official
RSA spokesman Vyacheslav Mikhailichenko said the Columbia tragedy may prompt space officials to only use Soyuz rockets to transport crew to and from the space station in the near future, ITAR-Tass reports.

But another RSA spokesman told ITAR-Tass that Russia's space agency only had two Soyuz rockets capable of carrying crews to and from the space station, urging US and Russia officials to help the space agency build new rockets.

Soyuz rockets are currently used to send Russian crews to the space station for short visits and are also used as emergency escape capsules on the ISS.

US space shuttles have been used to ferry permanent crews back and forth to the station and take up new segments.

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