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Cygnus Cargo Spaceship Delivers Belated Holiday Goodies

A privately launched cargo ship packed with late Christmas presents and space-traveling ants linked up with the International Space Station on Sunday, in a milestone delivery mission for the astronauts onboard.

Space station astronauts used a robotic arm to capture the unmanned Cygnus spacecraft early Sunday morning and attach it an open docking port as both spacecraft sailed 260 miles (418 kilometers) above Earth. The special delivery comes courtesy of the Dulles, Va.-company Orbital Sciences Corp., which launched the Cygnus spacecraft on Thursday to make its first official commercial cargo delivery to the station for NASA.

The Cygnus spacecraft carried (1,260 kilograms) of gear for the space station crew, including fresh fruit and Christmas gifts. It also delivered eight ant farms to the station for weightlessness research, 23 student experiments and an array of small CubeSat satellites. [See more photos of the Cygnus mission to space station]

The mission was originally slated for a mid-December launch, but Orbital Sciences officials and NASA delayed the flight to January when a cooling system malfunction on the station forced astronauts to perform emergency spacewalk repairs.

Bitter cold temperatures and a surprise solar flare added extra delays last week, with theCygnus spacecraft finally launching on Thursday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport's Pad-0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. It lifted off atop an Orbital-built Antares rocket.

Sunday's arrival appeared to go flawlessly, with astronauts Mike Hopkins of NASA and Koichi Wakata of Japan — both flight engineers with the station's six-man Expedition 38 crew —easily latching onto the Cygnus spacecraft with the station's robotic arm.

— Tariq Malik, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+.