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Corporate supply ship heads to space station with belated Christmas gifts

| Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, 10:00 p.m.

A privately launched supply ship rocketed toward the International Space Station on Thursday leaving behind a series of delays, ranging from the cold to the sun.

Orbital Sciences Corp. launched its unmanned Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Va., providing a view to nearby states along the East Coast.

The company successfully hoisted a capsule packed with 3,000 pounds of equipment and experiments provided by NASA, as well as food, and some ants for an educational project. Christmas presents for the six space-station residents are on board; the delivery is a month late.

Named Cygnus, the rocket is expected to reach the space station on Sunday. The orbiting outpost was zooming over the Atlantic, near Brazil, when the Antares blasted off.

“It's going to be an exciting weekend,” astronaut Koichi Wakata of Japan said in a tweet from the space station.

The delivery was delayed three times, most recently because of a strong solar storm. Engineers initially feared solar radiation might cause the rocket to veer off course. But reviews on Wednesday deemed it an acceptable risk. Previous delays were because of frigid temperatures and repairs on the space station. The weather on Thursday was a relatively balmy 45 degrees.

NASA is paying Orbital Sciences and the SpaceX company to restock the space station. The Orbital Sciences contract alone is worth $1.9 billion.

The launch is Orbital Sciences' second trip to the orbiting lab, but its first under the contract. The company conducted a successful test run in September. Two more trips are scheduled this year. Orbital Sciences launches from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia, its corporate base. California-based SpaceX flies from Cape Canaveral. It is scheduled to make its fourth supply run next month.

“Great way to start out the new year ... we're all smiles here,” said Bill Wrobel, director of NASA's Wallops facility.

The American, Russian and Japanese space station residents eagerly await the goodies inside Cygnus.

In addition to Christmas gifts from their families, NASA tucked in some fresh fruit.

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