An unmanned Russian cargo rocket has docked with the International Space Station, carrying new supplies and Christmas gifts to the U.S. astronaut and Russian cosmonaut aboard.
The way space station commander Bill McArthur puts it, the gift giver of Christmas, Santa Claus, has arrived a day early this year, on the eve of Christmas Eve. In addition to the usual inventory of food and water, oxygen, fuel, supplies, experiment hardware, and spare parts for the outpost, the two-and-a-half tons of cargo includes gifts from home. The retired U.S. Army colonel says that means he and his Russian colleague, Valery Tokharev, can open presents on December 25 as they take the day off from their usual routine.
"So we'll be diving into those on Christmas Day. So we'll relax a little bit, have a leisurely dinner. I think it will be a little more elaborate than normal. We're going to try to have a dinner that is focused on Russian food this year, some lamb with vegetables, maybe mutton soup, or borscht. Then we'll take advantage of the free time that we have and look out the window and just marvel at how beautiful the earth is as it slides by underneath us," he said.
Colonel McArthur says he will also take time to pass along Christmas greetings to ham radio operators around the world.
In fact, the two space voyagers will celebrate Christmas twice -- not only the Western holiday on Sunday, but also the Russian Orthodox observance on January 7th.
Commander McArthur says it is hard to be away from home during the holidays because he misses his family. "I feel a little homesick. At the same time, the job that we are doing here we think is so important to the future of mankind that it seems like a small sacrifice to pay," he said.
On New Year's Day, the station team will mark the halfway point of their six month space tour.
On the ground, U.S. space agency engineers are studying data to learn what caused last week's severing of a cable that provides power, command instructions, and video connections to the rail car mounted outside the station. This is a mobile platform for the outpost's robot arm, allowing it to move back and forth during construction and maintenance work.
The severed cable is a backup link to the rail car. The vehicle is not scheduled for use soon while U.S. space shuttles are grounded, so the space agency says the broken wires can be replaced during a future spacewalk.