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Space station shipment launched from Virginia, astronauts getting food, stink-free gym outfits

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A commercial cargo ship rocketed toward the International Space Station on Sunday, carrying food, science samples and new odour-resistant gym clothes for the resident crew.

Orbital Sciences Corp. launched its Cygnus capsule from the Virginia coast, its third space station delivery for NASA.

"It's like Christmas in July," said Frank Culbertson, an executive vice-president at Orbital Sciences and former astronaut.

Daylight and clouds limited visibility, but observers from North Carolina to New Jersey still had a shot at seeing the rising Antares rocket. It resembled a bright light in the early afternoon sky.

Its destination, the space station, was soaring 260 miles (418 kilometres) above Australia when the Cygnus took flight. The unmanned capsule should arrive there Wednesday.

This newest Cygnus contains more than 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) of supplies, much of it food. Also on board: mini-satellites, science samples, equipment and experimental exercise clothes. NASA said the new type of clothing is resistant to bacteria and odour buildup. So the astronauts won't smell as much during their two hours of daily workout in orbit and they'll require fewer clothing changes.

NASA is paying for the delivery service. The space agency hired two companies — the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences and California's SpaceX — to keep the space station well stocked once the shuttle program ended. The international partners also make shipments; the European Space Agency, for example, will launch its final supply ship in 1 1/2 weeks from French Guiana.

This particular Cygnus delivery was delayed a few months by various problems, including additional engine inspections and, most recently, bad weather at the Wallops Island launch site. The delays added to the tension for NASA's human exploration chief, Bill Gerstenmaier. He said he breathed a sigh of relief at liftoff given all the critical equipment on board, not to mention all the meals.

The Cygnus will remain at the space station for about a month. It will be filled with trash and cut loose for a fiery re-entry. Unlike the SpaceX Dragon capsule, the Cygnus is not built to return safely to Earth.

Saturday, meanwhile, marked the 5,000th day of continuous human habitation at the 260-mile-high outpost. Six men currently are on board, representing the United States, Russia and Germany.

"Humans are explorers!" German astronaut Alexander Gerst said via Twitter.

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