Dragon Spacecraft Embarks On Historic Mission
By Ed Pierce // May 22, 2012
Ingenuity Rules The Day
BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – At a time when most people are comfortably tucked away in bed, America made history this morning when a commercial space company launched on a mission to dock with the International Space Station.
The Space X Dragon spacecraft blasted off at 3:44 a.m. carried into the heavens by a Falcon 9 rocket.
Dragon will now orbit Earth for several days undergoing a series of complex tests to determine if the mission can proceed.
Should NASA give the OK, Dragon will maneuver to the space station and ISS astronauts that arrived last week will unload cargo carried there by Dragon.
When that happens, a new chapter in the history of space exploration will be written — it will be the farthest distance a commercial space vehicle has ever traveled and the first time something other than a government space agency has docked at the ISS.
If that happens, the unmanned Dragon will return to Earth in several weeks and initiate a contract for Space X to provide regular cargo deliveries to the ISS over the next several years.
Based in Hawthorne, Calif., Space X is one of several commercial space firms competing for NASA funding for its new Commercial Crew Capability program.
That calls for private space companies to demonstrate a complete launch system from rocket to spacecraft to operations to be considered for a NASA contract.
Dragon’s launch today is a preview of future manned missions where as many as seven astronauts are in training to be able to venture back and forth from the ISS from a modified Space X Dragon spacecraft.
The countdown to the launch went smoothly this time after a high pressure buildup was detected in one of Falcon’s nine engines just seconds before an attempt to launch Saturday morning.
That launch attempt was aborted and a new engine compartment was installed successfully.
Space X founder and chief executive officer Elon Musk was elated following the launch and made his feelings known on Twitter.
“Falcon flew perfectly!!” Musk tweeted. “Feels like a giant weight just came off my back.”
The historic aspect of the flight was not overlooked by NASA administrator Charles Bolden, who met with reporters in a press conference after the launch.
“The significance of this day cannot be overstated,” Bolden said. “We’re handing off to the private sector our transportation to the International Space Station so that NASA can focus on what we do best — exploring even deeper into our solar system with missions to an asteroid and Mars on the horizon.”