The six astronauts at the International Space Station got an early Easter treat this weekend with the arrival of a supply ship full of fresh food and experiments. Instead of the usual bunny, Saturday's delivery came via a swan—Orbital ATK's Cygnus capsule, named after the swan constellation. The cargo carrier rocketed away from Cape Canaveral on Tuesday night. NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra used the station's big robot arm to grab the capsule, as the two craft soared 250 miles above the Indian Ocean. "Excellent work, gentlemen," Mission Control radioed. It's the first of three shipments coming up in quick succession. A Russian cargo ship will lift off Thursday, followed by a SpaceX supply run on April 8. NASA has turned to private industry to keep the space station stocked.
The newly arrived Cygnus holds nearly 8,000 pounds of groceries, equipment, and research. Among the newfangled science: robotic grippers modeled after geckos' feet and the ingredients for a large-scale, controlled fire. A commercial-quality 3-D printer is packed inside as well; anyone will be able to order prints, for a price, from the Made In Space company. Virginia-based Orbital ATK hints Easter eggs may also be on board. The blaze— confined to a box inside the Cygnus—won't be set until the capsule departs in May with a load of trash. NASA researchers want to see how fast the cotton-fiberglass fabric burns, in hopes of improving future spacecraft safety. After the experiment, the capsule will burn up, for real, during re-entry. (A record number of Americans have applied to be astronauts.)