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Russia to delay space mission due to technical problems

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia plans to delay the next mission carrying U.S. and Russian astronauts to the International Space Station by several weeks due to problems with the spaceship's descent vehicle, Interfax news agency quoted an industry source as saying Friday.

The expected delay follows a series of technical mishaps that marred Russia's celebration of 50 years last year since Yuri Gagarin's pioneering first human space flight.

The space industry source told Interfax that the launch, originally set for March 30, would be delayed by several weeks, possibly until May.

The source added the shell of the descent vehicle, used to carry astronauts to the surface of Earth or other celestial bodies, broke during testing ahead of the take-off.

"This descent vehicle can no longer be used in a manned flight," said the source. "Therefore the launch of the Soyuz TMA-04M will have to be rescheduled until the second half of April or the first half of May."

The Soyuz was meant to carry Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin as well as U.S. astronaut Joseph Acaba to the ISS, a $100 billion research complex that orbits about 240 miles above Earth.

Alexei Krasnov, in charge of manned flights at Russian state space agency Roskosmos, told Itar-Tass there was a defective element in the descent vehicle. He said a decision might be made as soon as next week to push back the launch date.

Separately a space industry source told Itar-Tass that Saturday's launch of Dutch telecommunications satellite NSS-14 would also be delayed for the second time because of problems with the Proton-M carrier rocket.

It had first been planned for December 26, but was rescheduled for January 28. The new launch date has not yet been set.

The Proton-M has failed in the past and it was temporarily suspended after one of the rockets proved to be the cause behind the loss of a $265 million satellite last year.

(Reporting By Thomas Grove)

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