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'Santa's sleigh' arrives at space station

An unmanned Russian spaceship carrying food, water, fuel and Christmas goodies for two orbiting astronauts docked at the International Space Station on Friday.
/ Source: Reuters

An unmanned Russian spaceship carrying food, water, fuel and Christmas goodies for two orbiting astronauts docked at the International Space Station on Friday.

The Progress supply ship, which blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, arrived about eight minutes ahead of schedule and hooked up to the research outpost at 2:46 p.m. EST (1946 GMT), NASA's mission control in Houston said.

The craft carried needed supplies to Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev and U.S. astronaut William McArthur, who have been stationed in Earth's orbit for nearly three months.

"Santa's sleigh has arrived," McArthur said. "Valery and I have really been very good boys this year so we're certain there are going to be lots of goodies on board for us."

NASA declined to reveal what the Christmas packages contained. But the Itar-Tass news agency had earlier reported that the ISS crew would receive a doll of Father Frost, a Russian analogue of Santa Claus, chocolates and DVD disks as their Christmas and New Year gifts.

Russia has been the primary carrier of supplies to the space station since the U.S. space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas in February 2003, killing the seven astronauts on board.

NASA grounded its fleet for more than two years and returned to flight with the launch of shuttle Discovery in July.

But the U.S. space agency quickly grounded its shuttles again when problems developed during the Discovery mission. The shuttle is not expected to resume flights before May.