The first privately-backed mission to the International Space Station has come to a successful conclusion after the SpaceX-owned Dragon capsule splashed down into the Pacific Ocean yesterday. With the splashdown, thus concluded the first ‘official’ private spaceflight in human history.
It was back on October 8 that the Dragon first lifted off into space on what was to be the first in a series of a dozen contracted launches to the International Space Station. After unloading a delivery of cargo, the astronauts loaded a lot of equipment, mostly experiments, into the Dragon that could not have otherwise been returned to Earth or the simple reason that there is no space shuttle anymore and that the Russian Soyuz capsules are too small to carry both cargo and astronauts. In all, the Dragon carried nearly 1,700 pounds of gear back to Earth.
For the space community, a new era has begun as, until now, all space launches were government missions. NASA Spokesman Josh Byerly called the mission “historic.” .
As for NASA itself, the space agency has an intense interest and stake in SpaceX . Why? NASA has already awarded the company a contract to deliver cargo to the ISS so that NASA can concentrate more deeply on deep space missions. The ultimate goal: have the private sector largely take over the low Earth orbital activities.
After yesterday’s splashdown, NASA was very pleased with the performance. Even at launch, NASA space station program manager Mike Suffredini said that the Dragon’s ability to launch supplies to the station and return cargo back to Earth is a cornerstone of boosting scientific research on the orbiting laboratory, as well as maintaining its daily operations. Suffredini described SpaceX’s flights as “critical” to the ISS.
Now, three weeks after the milestone launch, SpaceX has proven that it can deliver on its promises.
As for SpaceX, it has a lot on the line, too. The company already has a contract for 12 deliveries to the ISS, with this mission being the first in the contract. Earlier this year, SpaceX launched a Dragon capsule to the ISS with a full load of supplies. However, that was merely a test mission to prove that SpaceX cold deliver on its promises.
So far, SpaceX is the leader in the area of private spaceflight, being the only company to ever launch and retrieve a space capsule, which it did at the end of 2010. As for the 2011 calendar year, this time was spent refining the technology and bringing it up to standards for the NASA contract to deliver goods to the ISS. Now, SpaceX has proven, beyond any shadow of doubt, that it is capable of flying two-way missions to the International Space Station, thus freeing up NASA resources for elsewhere and, hopefully, paving the way for more private spaceflight companies in the future.
Needless to say, these are exciting times in space.
For more info:
Hit the ‘subscribe’ button for automatic email updates when I write something new!
Want to read more of my stuff? Check out my other Examiner columns!
Cleveland Astronomy Examiner
Cleveland Photography Examiner
Want even more? Check out my personal website:
Bodzash Photography & Astronomy