Russia in contact with shuttle after glitch

MOSCOW Thu Dec 16, 2010 5:18pm EST

The Russian Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft, carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew of NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and European Space Agency Astronaut Paolo Nespoli, blasts off from its launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome December 16, 2010. REUTERS/Sergei Remezov

The Russian Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft, carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew of NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and European Space Agency Astronaut Paolo Nespoli, blasts off from its launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome December 16, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Sergei Remezov

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday it was in full contact with the international space station and its Soyuz shuttle after a brief loss of contact with the craft that will soon become the mainstay of the international space program.

Russia's mission control had lost communication with the Soyuz craft for several hours, Interfax news agency reported, quoting an unnamed source in the space industry.

The Soyuz spaceship blasted off on Wednesday carrying a U.S., Russian and Italian astronaut to the International Space Station, where it was expected to dock on Friday at 23:12 Moscow time (2012 GMT).

"At the current time there is a sustainable connection between the Krasnoznamenski (military satellite control center) and Korolyov (Space central command)," Interfax news agency reported Defense Ministry spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin as saying.

The Soyuz flight is one of the last before the United States retires its reusable Discovery shuttles, leaving international space station astronauts completely dependent on Russian craft for missions to space.

A source at Russia's central command said information on the ship's orbit was coming in regularly after the loss of contact.

"The parameters of the orbit of the international space station and spaceship Soyuz TMA-20 stopped coming into space command center around 18:00 Moscow time, but the flow of information was restored between 20:30-21:00," he said.

Loss of contact with space shuttles occurs from time to time, but lasts only a short time.

Central command became alarmed after hours passed without information on the spaceship's whereabouts, and contacted NASA's mission control center in Houston, urging it to use its global positioning system (GPS) to track the craft, said one of the anonymous sources quoted by Interfax.

The United States has planned only two more shuttle missions, after which NASA will hand Russia responsibility for ferrying the ISS crew, at a cost of $51 million per person.

The international space station is a $100 billion project, organized by 16 countries. It has been under construction 220 miles above Earth since 1998.

(editing by Ralph Boulton)

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