A US shipment of much-needed groceries and other astronaut supplies rocketed toward the International Space Station for the first time in months on Sunday, reigniting NASA's commercial delivery service. If the Orbital ATK capsule arrives at the space station Wednesday as planned, it will represent the first US delivery since spring. "Santa is on his way!" tweeted Tory Bruno, president of rocket maker United Launch Alliance. To NASA's relief, the weather cooperated after three days of high wind and cloudy skies that kept the Atlas V rocket firmly on the ground. Everything came together on the fourth launch attempt, allowing the unmanned Atlas to blast off with 7,400 pounds of space station cargo, not to mention some Christmas presents for the awaiting crew.
The space station astronauts—two of them, including commander Scott Kelly, deep into a one-year mission—have gone without US shipments since April. Two private companies contracted for more than $3.5 billion by NASA to replenish the 250-mile-high lab are stuck on Earth with grounded rockets. Orbital ATK bought the United Launch Alliance's rocket, the veteran Atlas V, for this supply mission. Orbital's previous grocery run, its fourth, ended in a fiery explosion seconds after liftoff in October 2014. SpaceX, the other supplier, suffered a launch failure in June on its eighth trip. Russia also lost a supply ship earlier this year. But it picked up the slack and has another resupply mission scheduled just before Christmas; Japan has chipped in as well. NASA normally likes to have a six-month stash of food aboard the space station, but it's down to a couple of months because of the three failed flights. (In August, astronauts chowed down on the first meal grown in space.)