Space

Dragon X arrives at Space Station - milestone reached in commercial space business

By Ted Bonnitt on May 25th, 2012
Dragon X arrives at Space Station - milestone reached in commercial space business
Dragon is now berthed to the International Space Station's Harmony module.
Dragon is now berthed to the International Space Station's Harmony module.

The commercial space industry arrived at the International Space Station today, with the first docking of the Space X Dragon cargo ship.

Dragon successfully performed a series of tests designed to demonstrate the craft's maneuvering and abort capabilities before it was cleared for final approach to the station.

The space station's robotic arm then grabbed the capsule, swung it into place and attached it to the station's Harmony module. 

President Obama called to congratulate Space X head Elon Musk on the milestone.  Space X designed and built Dragon.

The Dragon capsule is delivering 1,014 pounds of supplies to the station including non-critical experiments, food, clothing and technology. Crew members will open the hatch to the capsule today and unload the cargo during a four-day period. 

Dragon then will be loaded with 1,367 pounds of hardware and cargo no longer needed aboard the station in preparation for the spacecraft's return to Earth. 

Dragon and station hatches will be closed on May 30. 

On May 31, the Expedition 31 crew members will detach Dragon from Harmony, maneuver it to a 33-foot release point and un-grapple the capsule. Dragon will deorbit approximately four hours after leaving the station, taking about 30 minutes to re-enter Earth's atmosphere and landing in the Pacific Ocean about 250 miles west of southern California. 

Dragon is the first commercial spacecraft to journey to the space station.  The highly anticipated mission fills a gaping hole in the United State's launch capability following the retirement of the Space Shuttle program.

Currently, the United States has no operational manned launch system, and is dependent on Russia for access to the space station.

If all goes to plan, the commercial space industry will begin ferrying astronauts to the space station in 2017.

If the mission is successful, the re-usable unmanned vessel will begin regular supply runs to the space station later this year.

NASA signed a $1.6 billion contract with SpaceX for a minimum of 12 re-supply missions.  SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk, who made his fortune with PayPal, the internet's leading payment system.  Musk's other day job is running Tesla Motors, a manufacturer of electric vehicles.

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