|Image Source: Robert Pearlman/collectSPACE.com|
|A private space capsule called Dragon soared into the predawn sky Tuesday, riding a pillar of flame like its beastly namesake on a history-making trip to the International Space Station. The unmanned capsule, built by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX, is the first non-governmental spacecraft to launch to the space station, ushering in a new era of partnership between the public and private space flight.|
"I want to congratulate SpaceX for its successful launch and salute the NASA team that worked alongside them to make it happen," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden 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. Under President Obama’s leadership, the nation is embarking upon an ambitious exploration program that will take us farther into space than we have ever traveled before, while helping create good-paying jobs right here in the United States of America."
The Dragon capsule will conduct a series of checkout procedures to test and prove its systems, including the capability to rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station. On Thursday, May 24, Dragon will perform a flyby of the space station at a distance of approximately 1.5 miles to validate the operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach.
"Feels like a giant weight just came off my back," company founder and chief executive Elon Musk posted on Twitter after Dragon deployed its solar panels, the first of several key milestones that must be met before the spacecraft is cleared to dock at the station.
"Falcon flew perfectly!!" Musk wrote.
"This flight is an important milestone as NASA and SpaceX develop the next generation of U.S. spacecraft to carry the critically important experiments, payloads and supplies to our remarkable laboratory in space," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration Operations Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington.
SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, which will perform its own test flight later this year, have been working under NASA's COTS program, which provides investments to stimulate the commercial space industry in America. Once the companies have successfully completed their test flights, they will begin delivering regular cargo shipments to the station.
"NASA is working with private industry in an unprecedented way, cultivating innovation on the path toward maintaining America's leadership in space exploration," said Philip McAlister, director for NASA's Commercial Spaceflight Development.
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