CAPE CANAVERAL — The six space station astronauts finally got their Christmas presents Sunday with the arrival of a privately launched supply ship that took an extra month to soar.
The astronauts opened the capsule a day early and started removing items as soon as the Orbital Sciences Corp. vessel was moored safely at the International Space Station. Packed inside were 3,000 pounds of groceries, equipment and experiments, as well as eagerly awaited Christmas gifts from their families back home and some fresh fruit courtesy of NASA.
NASA is relying on private industry to keep the orbiting lab well stocked in this post-shuttle era. This was Orbital Sciences' second shipment.
The Virginia company was supposed to make the latest delivery last month, well before Christmas, but had to wait for reasons beyond its control. A space station breakdown in mid December took priority, and NASA bumped the flight to January to repair the disabled cooling system at the orbiting outpost.
Then frigid weather at the launch site at Wallops Island, Va., forced a delay. Then a strong solar storm interfered. Everything finally came together for a smooth liftoff on Thursday.
Astronaut Michael Hopkins said, "I've been up here on station for about 3½ months and I've seen two Orbital vehicles in that time, and I think that's very impressive. So congratulations."