Christmas comes late to International Space Station
Christmas comes late to International Space Station Backdropped by Earth is the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft appears at left (Reuters)
Christmas comes late to International Space Station
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A shipment of much-needed groceries and belated Christmas presents has reached the International Space Station.

The SpaceX company's supply ship, Dragon, pulled up Monday at the orbiting lab two days after its liftoff. Station commander Butch Wilmore used a robot arm to grab the capsule and its 5,000 pounds of cargo. This all happened as the craft soared more than 260 miles above the Mediterranean Sea.

The space station's six astronauts were getting a little low on supplies. That's because the previous supply ship, owned by another company, was destroyed in an October launch explosion. NASA scrambled to get replacement equipment aboard Dragon. School children also rustled up new science projects to go aboard the supply ship.

Then Dragon was stalled a month by rocket snags. It should have arrived at the space station well before Christmas.

Mission Control joked about missing not only the December shipment date, but Eastern Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7 as well.

"We're excited to have it on board," Wilmore said. "We'll be digging in soon."

He's especially eager to get more mustard. The station's condiment cabinet is empty.

NASA is paying SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. for shipments. But Orbital's rockets are grounded until next year because of its launch accident. SpaceX is picking up as much slack as it can. Russia and Japan also plan deliveries for this year.

SpaceX is still poring over data from Saturday's rocket-landing test, the first of its kind.

After the first stage of the Falcon rocket peeled away, as planned following liftoff, it flew back to a giant platform floating off the Florida coast. The guidance fins on the booster ran out of hydraulic fluid, however, right before touchdown, and it landed hard and broke into pieces.

The California company's billionaire founder, Elon Musk, was encouraged nonetheless and plans another rocket-landing test next month.

Critical thinking challenge: Why might SpaceX want the first stage of the Falcon rocket to land on a platform, rather than fall into the ocean?

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