ISS Crew Welcomes Holiday Cargo Ship
A Russian Soyuz rocket launches the unmanned cargo ship Progress 20 toward the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 32, 2005.
Credit: RSC Energia.

Two astronauts living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) welcomed a fresh shipment of food, water, parts and holiday gifts Friday after a Russian cargo tug docked at the orbital laboratory.

"Santa's sleigh has arrived," ISS Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur told ISS flight controllers after the successful docking. "Valery and I have been very good boys this year, so we're certain there are going to be lots of goodies on board."

McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev plan to open hatches between the space station and Russian-built Progress 20 supply ship at 5:15 p.m. EST (2015 GMT), NASA officials said.

"You might want to get to it soon before it goes bad," astronaut Ken Ham, serving as station communicator at NASA's ISS mission control in Johnson Space Center, told the Expedition 12 crew.

NASA officials said the new cargo ship includes holiday stockings, food treats and other gifts on top of the regular supply manifest.

Progress 20 launched toward the ISS on Dec. 21, riding a Russian Soyuz rocket into orbit in a space shot staged from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. After two days of spaceflight, the supply ship docked smoothly at the space station's Pirs docking compartment at 2:55 p.m. EST (1955 GMT). McArthur and Tokarev watched over the spacecraft's arrival and were prepared to take control remotely if needed, NASA officials said. 

Progress 20 joins a previous cargo ship - Progress 19 - at the ISS. The older spacecraft was originally set to undock from the aft end of the space station's Russian-built Zvezda service module, but Russian flight controllers later decided to delay its departure. The delay, set for March 2006, will allow more time for the Expedition 12 crew to load Progress 19 with trash and draw on its propellant and oxygen stores, NASA officials have said.

The arrival of Progress 20 delivered about 5,680 pounds (2,576 kilograms) of more cargo to the space station. Included on the manifest were 183 pounds (83 kilograms)of oxygen and air, 463 pounds (210 kilograms)of water and 1,940 pounds (879 kilograms)) of propellant for the station's thrusters. Progress 20 also delivered, 3,100 pounds (1,406 kilograms) of dry cargo, including food, experiment hardware, spare parts and holiday gifts for the ISS crew.

McArthur, a NASA astronaut, and Tokarev, a cosmonaut with Russia's Federal Space Agency, are nearing the halfway mark of their six-month mission aboard the ISS. The Expedition 12 crew plan to celebrate a traditional Dec. 25 Christmas, ring in 2006 on Jan. 1 and celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 5-6, McArthur said. [Click here for NASA's video of the Expedition 12 crew's holiday message from the ISS.]

"For me, Christmas has always been perhaps my favorite time of the year," McArthur said in prerecorded message, adding he will miss his family most at this time of year. "But at the same time, what a wonderful way to spend Christmas."

The astronauts have at least one spacewalk - the second of their mission - scheduled in February before returning to Earth on April 1.

The crew of Expedition 13, cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams are expected to replace McArthur and Tokarev as ISS caretakers, Russian ISS officials have said. They will also ferry Brazil's first astronaut, Marcos Pontes, to the station for a brief stay before he returns with the Expedition 12 crew.