U.S. Supply Shipment Rockets Toward International Space Station

By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A U.S. shipment of much-needed groceries and other astronaut supplies rocketed toward the International Space Station for the first time in months Sunday, reigniting NASA’s commercial delivery service.

If the Orbital ATK capsule arrives at the space station Wednesday as planned, it will represent the first U.S. delivery since spring.

“Santa is on his way!” Tory Bruno, president of rocket maker United Launch Alliance, announced via Twitter.

More than anyone, perhaps, the six space station astronauts were thrilled following all the weather-related delays. They managed to photograph the rising rocket from their windows as both craft sailed over the Atlantic. “Caught something good on the horizon,” commander Scott Kelly reported in a tweet.

To NASA’s relief, the weather cooperated after three days of high wind and cloudy skies that kept the Atlas V rocket firmly on the ground. Everything came together on the fourth launch attempt, allowing the unmanned Atlas to blast off with 7,400 pounds of space station cargo, not to mention some Christmas presents for the awaiting crew.

Just before liftoff, Bruno urged, “Everyone cross your fingers and think happy weather thoughts.”

It apparently worked.

The Atlas soared through clouds and, 21 minutes later, ended up placing the Cygnus cargo carrier in the perfect orbit. Ecstatic launch controllers applauded, shook hands and hugged one another. “We’re real happy to be back in space,” said Frank Culbertson, president of Orbital’s space systems group.

United Launch Alliance manager Vernon Thorp couldn’t help but notice all the number fours in Sunday’s launch equation. Liftoff occurred at 4:44 p.m. on the fourth launch attempt, and Orbital’s designation for the mission was — yep — number four. “I guess the numbers just all lined up right today,” Thorp told reporters.

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