SpaceX Launches First Private Spacecraft To International Space Station
On July 20, 1969 we became the first, and only nation to put a human on the moon. Today, May 22, 2012 may not be as momentous, but it does mark a landmark for our space program. At approximately 3:44 a.m. SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket launched from Canaveral carrying the unmanned Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. This is the first time a private company has sent a spacecraft to the space station.
In a speech at the cape, NASA Administrator Charles Boldenin said, "Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration. A private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start."
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In light of its ever-decreasing budget and retired space shuttle fleet, NASA is trying to formulate a working relationship with private companies for ventures into space. With this successful launch, SpaceX hopes to secure a contract with NASA for hauling cargo, and even astronauts into space.
Currently, NASA pays Russia $63 million to send astronauts into space. In hopes of eliminating that growing cost-factor, they have already put $400 million of seed money into SpaceX. If all goes well, a contract for $1.6 billion between the two should go into effect later this year.
"There's so much hope riding on that rocket, said SpaceX Founder Elon Musk. "When it worked ... and they saw their handiwork in space and operating as it should, there was tremendous elation. For us, it's like winning the Super Bowl."
The launch wasn't without flaws. It was originally planned for Saturday, but the engines went out after a brief moment. The engineers were able to pin the problem down on one of the rocket's nine engines, and the ordeal was corrected within hours.
The Dragon capsule is slated to attempt docking with the space station at about 1,700 miles per hour in three days without any humans on board to help steer it. The astronauts in the space station will attempt to grab it using a robotic arm.
For NASA, their future lies beyond the space station or our moon.
According to Bolden, "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."