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Space station astronauts get special Easter delivery

A still image captured from a video showed the SpaceX Dragon resupply capsule berthing on to the space station.

NASA-TV via Associated Press

A still image captured from a video showed the SpaceX Dragon resupply capsule berthing on to the space station.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies.

The shipment arrived Sunday morning via the SpaceX company’s cargo ship, Dragon.

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‘‘Gentlemen, the Easter Dragon is knocking at the door,’’ NASA’s Mission Control said as the capsule was bolted into place.

The Dragon spent two days chasing the international space station after its launch from Cape Canaveral. Astronauts used a robot arm to capture the capsule 260 miles above Egypt.

More than 2 tons of food, spacewalking gear, and experiments fill the Dragon, including mating fruit flies, a little veggie hothouse, and legs for the resident robot. NASA also packed family care packages for the six spacemen.

On Wednesday, the stakes will be even higher when the two Americans on board conduct a spacewalk to replace a dead computer. NASA wants a reliable backup in place as soon as possible, even though the primary computer is working fine. The backup failed April 11.

The SpaceX delivery wasn’t exactly express. The launch was delayed more than a month.

A minor communication problem cropped up during Sunday’s rendezvous, but the capture still took place on time and with success.

SpaceX flight controllers, at company headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., exchanged high-fives, shook hands, applauded, and embraced once Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata snared the Dragon with the station’s hefty robot arm.

‘‘Great work catching the Dragon,’’ NASA’s Mission Control radioed from Houston. ‘‘Thanks for getting her on board.’’

The capsule was solid and stable for grabbing, Wakata reported, making the job easy. He congratulated the SpaceX team and added, ‘‘We’re excited.’’

A few hours later, the Dragon was secured to the space station. The capsule will remain attached until mid-May. It will be filled with science samples — including the flies — for return to Earth.

NASA is paying SpaceX as well as Virginia’s Orbital Sciences Corp. to regularly stock the orbiting lab. These commercial shipments stemmed from the 2011 retirement of the space shuttles. This was the fourth station delivery for SpaceX.

Russia, Japan, and Europe also make occasional deliveries.

On Sunday, a private company announced that a lucky citizen of the United Arab Emirates could soon get the chance to be rocketed into space.

Government-backed Aabar Investments will hold a competition to award an Emirati a free spot aboard Virgin Galactic’s spaceship when it begins ferrying paying tourists on suborbital trips promising a taste of weightlessness and a view of the Earth’s curvature.

The United Arab Emirates is a seven-state federation that includes Dubai and the federal capital Abu Dhabi. The OPEC member country has a nascent satellite program and is eager to develop its own space industry as part of a broader push to diversify its economy.

Contest details have yet to be worked out, but it appears the millions of expatriates who far outnumber the local Emirati population are not eligible.

Aabar is a partial owner of Virgin Galactic along with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

The company, one of several state-linked investment firms backed by Abu Dhabi, gave Virgin Galactic a major financial jolt in 2009 by agreeing to pay $280 million in exchange for just under a third of the space startup.

It raised its stake to nearly 38 percent in 2011 after pumping in additional funds that would go toward developing a satellite launch program.

The free ride on offer is a way to give something back to the United Arab Emirates, Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides said. ‘‘Without the support of Aabar Investments, this program would not be where it is today,’’ he said.

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