Friday, May 25, 2012

SpaceX makes history again; first private spacecraft to dock with the ISS

SpaceX made history - again - as on Friday, May 25, 2012, the company's Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station (ISS), making it the fifth entity to dock with the ISS. It is the first private one to do so, with the others all being governmental bodies: the U.S., Russia, Japan, and the E.U.

With the dismantling of the space shuttle program, the U.S. is looking to the private sector to take over, so that it will no longer have to rely on other governments for flights to and from the ISS.

SpaceX launched the Dragon capsule, atop its Falcon 9 rocket, on Tuesday, May 22. The flight had been scheduled for May 19, but was aborted, literally at the last second, with one second to go before lift-off. The cause: a faulty engine valve.

Mike Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager said, “It’s been a long time coming. I can’t tell you how proud we are to have been a part of this historic moment.”

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX said, “We’re incredibly excited. There’s so much that could have gone wrong and didn’t. This really is, I think, going to be recognized as a significantly historical step forward in space travel - and hopefully the first of many to come." Musk is also co-founder and head of product design at Tesla Motors, and co-founded, which later became PayPal.

For the actual docking, astronaut Don Pettit reached out with the station’s robot arm to grab the approaching spacecraft. “Looks like we’ve got a Dragon by the tail,” he said, once the ISS' robot arm had snagged the Dragon capsule.

The Dragon capsule is carrying 1,150 pounds of supplies for the ISS. Current plans call for the Dragon to remain docked to the space station until May 31. On that date, SpaceX will order the craft, now carrying a 1,455-pound payload for the return flight, re-enter the atmosphere. It should splash down in the Pacific off the Southern California coast.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule will be the first vehicle returning from the ISS with a useful payload sincethe shuttle launches ended last year. The Russian, Japanese and European cargo ships that NASA has relied upon to supply the ISS since then can bring nothing of value back; they are simply loaded with garbage and burn up in the atmosphere.

If the remainder of the flight is successful, SpaceX will then enter into a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for a dozen cargo flights to the ISS.

You can watch the historic SpaceX docking with the ISS below. You can also view a slideshow of approach images here.

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