Christmas has finally arrived for the six space station astronauts. A privately launched supply ship arrived at the International Space Station this morning, three days after blasting off from Virginia. The space station crew used a hefty robot arm to capture the Cygnus capsule as the two craft zoomed side by side at 17,500mph. The Cygnus is carrying 3,000 pounds of equipment and experiments for NASA, including ants for an educational project. Also on board: eagerly awaited Christmas presents from the families of all six spacemen as well as some fresh fruit courtesy of NASA.
Orbital Sciences was supposed to make the delivery last month, but was delayed by a space station breakdown, frigid weather at the Virginia launch site, and a strong solar storm. Launch controllers broke into applause once robot arm operator Michael Hopkins grabbed onto the Cygnus, more than 260 miles above the Indian Ocean. Because of the long day, the astronauts were supposed to wait until tomorrow before opening the hatch to Cygnus. But with presents awaiting them, there was no telling whether they would oblige. This is Orbital Sciences' first official supply run under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA. The Cygnus will be filled with trash and cut loose for a fiery, destructive re-entry by the end of February.