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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zvezda Docks With International Space Station

The long-awaited Zvezda service module successfully docked with the International Space Station on Wednesday, paving the way for a flurry of activity at this costly scientific outpost and reinforcing Russia's sometimes shaky role in the ambitious 16-nation project.

The 19-ton Russian-made Zvezda smoothly linked up with the station's Zarya control module at 4:45 a.m. Moscow time, bringing rounds of applause and thumbs-up at mission control in Korolyov, outside Moscow.

"This is the beginning of a new era in space," Bob Castle, flight director for NASA, said at mission control after the docking in remarks carried by news agencies.

The crucial Zvezda module was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 12 and is meant to provide initial living quarters, propulsion and electricity distribution for the $60 billion station.

Had the docking failed, the first long-term manned mission to the station would have been delayed for two years or more. But in light of the successful linkup, Russian cosmonauts Yury Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev and U.S. astronaut and commander William Shepherd are set to take off in a Soyuz-TM capsule Oct. 30 for the pioneer long-term mission to the ISS.

Click here to read our special report on Russia's New Space Age.The Russian Aviation and Space Agency, or Rosaviakosmos, repeatedly delayed the launch of this key module citing cash shortages and the need to modify the Proton rocket, which was used for the launch, after two crashes last year. The delays have angered the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, with some officials even hinting that Russia's partner status in the U.S.-led ISS project f which is running two years behind schedule f could be downgraded to a mere contractor.

Now that Zvezda is docked to the station, engineers at mission control are planning tests, including one to check air pressure inside the lock linking Zvezda and the station's Russian-made Zarya module, a mission control official said.

Another step will be connecting the two modules' computers so that space officials at Korolyov can soon begin controlling the entire station f including its orbit f through Zvezda's onboard computer, he said.

If the tests are successful, the first Progress-M cargo ship will take off from Baikonur on Aug. 6 to deliver supplies to the ISS, the official said. Next up on the ISS launch schedule would be the U.S. shuttle Atlantis, which is set to blast off Sept. 8.

While hailing Wednesday's docking as a success, Rosaviakosmos general director Yury Koptev used the event to appeal to the federal government for more cash to manufacture nine more ISS components that Russia has pledged to deploy in addition to Zarya and Zvezda. He said the federal government has so far provided only 30 percent of what the Russian space industry should have spent to meet its ISS commitments.

"Foreigners keep wondering how Russia manages to fulfill such a large and costly program without cash," he said.

Cash shortages will probably delay the full deployment of the Russian segment, now set for 2005, for one year, said Leonid Gorshkov, head of ISS design at Energia Corp., which is Russia's chief ISS contractor.

Gorshkov said the Russian space industry is now focusing on completing Docking Compartment I and the Universal Docking Module, which are to blast off in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

Docking Compartment I is to serve as an airlock for carrying out spacewalks and docking by Soyuz manned craft.The component f set to take off in mid-2001 f is nearly complete, said Gorshkov, adding that it was unclear when Docking Compartment II would be ready.

As for the Universal Docking Module, it is set to take off from Baikonur atop a Proton rocket in 2002 to provide docking for Russia's research modules, Gorshkov said.

Also to be launched in 2002 is the Science Power Platform, which will feature four solar arrays to ensure that the Russian segment is "autonomous enough energy-wise," he said.

Other key components of the Russian segment will be Research Modules I and II.

According to one independent expert, however, Gorshkov's estimates that the full deployment of the station's Russian segment will be delayed for only one year are "too optimistic." The expert, who asked not to be named, said the delay could total three years unless the federal government boosts funding for the country's ISS commitments.