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Sunday 25 September 2016

Capsule delivers Easter treats to ISS astronauts

Published 26/03/2016 | 11:36

Tim Peake and his fellow astronauts have received another delivery
Tim Peake and his fellow astronauts have received another delivery

The six astronauts at the International Space Station have received an early Easter treat this weekend with the arrival of a supply ship full of fresh food and experiments.

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Instead of the usual bunny, Saturday's delivery came via a swan - Orbital ATK's Cygnus capsule, named after the swan constellation, which rocketed away from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Tuesday night.

Nasa astronaut Timothy Kopra used the station's robot arm to grab the cargo carrier, as the two craft soared 250 miles above the Indian Ocean.

It is the first of three shipments arriving in quick succession. A Russian cargo ship will lift off on Thursday, followed by a SpaceX supply run on April 8. Nasa has turned to private industry to keep the space station stocked.

The Cygnus holds nearly 8,000lbs of groceries, equipment and research, including robotic grippers modelled after geckos' feet, and the ingredients for a large-scale, controlled fire.

A commercial-quality 3D printer is also packed inside; anyone will be able to order prints, for a price, from the Made In Space company.

Virginia-based Orbital ATK also hinted that Easter eggs may also be on board for the crew, which includes Briton Tim Peake.

The controllable blaze - confined to a box inside the Cygnus - will not be set until the capsule departs in May with a load of rubbish. Nasa researchers want to see how fast the cotton-fibreglass fabric burns, in hopes of improving future spacecraft safety. Following the experiment, the capsule will burn up, for real, during re-entry.

As it turns out, the Cygnus had an out-of-the-ordinary ride to orbit. The first-stage booster of the normally reliable unmanned Atlas V rocket stopped firing six seconds early, and the upper stage had to compensate by burning a minute longer, to get the capsule in the right orbit. Rocket-maker United Launch Alliance has delayed its next launch, a military satellite mission, to figure out what went wrong.

The commander of the doomed space shuttle Columbia, meanwhile, is being honoured with this latest delivery. Orbital ATK named this Cygnus after Rick Husband, who piloted the first shuttle docking at the space station in 1999.

He died aboard Columbia during re-entry in 2003, along with six other astronauts.

Kopra called him a "personal hero" and said he was honored to welcome the "S.S. Rick Husband" aboard.

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