ISS service module in orbit

BAIKONUR (KAZAKHSTAN), JULY 12. The International Space Station project has received a boost with the launch of the Russian Proton-K rocket carrying the ISS service module into orbit. The Proton lifted off today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Russia and the United States have invested high hopes in the Zvezda module, which will be the core of the 16-nation space station project. The module will contain flight controls, the sewage system and sleeping quarters.

Russia says the 22-tonne, 43-foot-long segment cost about $320 millions to build. It has severely taxed Moscow's meagre financial resources and thrown the U.S.-led space station project more than two years behind schedule, casting doubts on Russia' reliability as a major partner.

The launch could have come sooner if not for two crashes of Proton rockets over Kazakstan last year. Russia insists problems with the rocket have been worked out, and it has put several satellites into orbit with the help of Proton rockets since the crashes.

The Zvezda module is going into orbit unmanned, docking on July 26 by computer with two other space station components, Zarya and Unity, which were launched in 1998. The first crew could go to the station by October.

- AP