Elon Musk is one happy man after his SpaceX Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station, ISS, yesterday. After the first SpaceX rocket launch was aborted last week, the Falcon 9 rocket successfully lifted the Dragon spacecraft into Earth orbit on May 22. Three days later, following over five hours of a carefully orchestrated ballet, the unmanned Dragon capsule was maneuvered close enough to the ISS where the station′s robotic arm was able to grab it. By the afternoon of May 25, the Dragon spacecraft was docked with the Harmony module of the space station. This morning, on May 26, astronauts on board the station opened the hatch and have begun unloading the 1,014 pounds of supplies.
Once emptied, the crew of the ISS will then fill about 1,300 pounds of unwanted equipment and material for return to Earth. On May 31, the SpaceX Dragon will undock and begin its journey home, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The mission has many firsts, including being the commercial spacecraft to dock with the ISS. SpaceX now joins the ranks of four other space programs, the USA, Russia, China and the Europeans, to successfully perform a docking maneuver in Earth orbit.
The PayPal billionaire, Elon Musk, has nearly gone broke funding SpaceX and his other enterprise, Tesla Motors. But pay day is here as he has now begun to fulfill a $1.6 Billion dollar contract to fly 12 automated supply missions to the space station. The spacecraft could wind up earning over $3 Billion if additional flights are needed. The Dragon can carry up to 6,000 pounds of supplies into space, and return 3,000 pounds of waste and other items unwanted back to Earth. Future flights could also be manned, as the Dragon capsule is designed to carry up to seven astronauts.
The success of the SpaceX Dragon capsule docking with the ISS marks a new era for space travel. As the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station, the unmanned ship breaks new ground on many levels. After a shaky start with the SpaceX rocket launch aborted last week, the company quickly recovered and has delivered the goods, literally. Once the ISS crew unloads the Dragon, they will then begin to load it for its reentry and splashdown later next week.