Christmas came a day late for astronauts aboard the international space station with the successful Wednesday arrival of a Russian cargo ship bearing gifts and fresh supplies.
The unmanned Progress 27 space freighter arrived at the station's Russian-built Pirs docking compartment after a three-day chase to catch up to the high-flying orbital laboratory.
"Everything is nominal," said veteran cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, an Expedition 16 flight engineer aboard the ISS, as the cargo ship neared the outpost. "Okay, we feel the contact."
Malenchenko stood ready to take remote control of Progress 27 should its automated systems fail during today's docking. But the cargo ship smoothly moored itself to its Pirs port at 3:14 a.m. EST as both spacecraft flew about 200 miles above southern Europe.
Tucked aboard the Progress 27 are about 2.5 tons of propellant, oxygen, fresh fruit, equipment and other vital supplies for the station's three-astronaut crew. Included in that cargo are Christmas presents for Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Dan Tani, as well as birthday gifts for Malenchenko, who turned 46 on Saturday.
"These include selected concerts of Vladimir Vinokur, video congratulations from home and from his relatives and friends," Russia's Interfax News Agencyquoted Federal Space Agency as saying. Copies of Malenchenko's favorite films and television programs were also included, Interfax reported.
The astronauts are expected to open the hatches between the space station and Progress 27 at about 6:30 a.m. EST.
Progress 27 launched early Sunday from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with 2,921 pounds (1,325 kilograms) of dry cargo stored aboard. About 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of oxygen and 1,918 pounds (870 kilograms) of rocket propellant were also packed inside the cargo ship, NASA said.
Whitson has said the cargo ship is also delivering fresh tomatoes and onions, fixings will lend themselves to a special dinner of "space hamburgers" once she and her crewmates begin unloading Progress 27.
"Our standard menu no longer has re-hydratable hamburger patties in it, so I had requested, in advance, to have patties and dinner rolls in my preference foods," Whitson wrote in a recent Expedition 16 journal entry.
Whitson dreamed up her personal version of orbital hamburgers during her Expedition 5 mission to the ISS in 2002. An assortment of handy, and spicy, sauces to hold the concoction together was a must when she recreated them last month for her Expedition 16 crewmates.
"Space hamburgers went over pretty well, because they were different than the standard stuff," Whitson wrote. "But there is some assembly required...using the [sauces] of choice to hold them together!"