May 25, 2012 – After a number of delays, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 successfully launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 22, 2012. The Falcon 9 propelled the Dragon capsule into space to make its maiden voyage to the International Space Shuttle. This marks the first successful launch of a commercially-made capsule into space. After launch, the capsule performed maneuvers in space to test the navigation system before being allowed to approach the Space Station.
On May 25th, the capsule was allowed to move toward the International Space Station (ISS) to dock. The crew of Expedition 31 used the station’s robotic arm to grapple the capsule and berth it with ISS. The capsule delivered just over 1,000 pounds of supplies; and while it has the capacity to carry up to 7,300, the payload was limited due to the experimental nature of the mission. Among the cargo was a number of containers holding the ashes of those who wished to be ‘buried in space,’ including Scotty from the original Star Trek TV series and a former astronaut. The capsule will return to Earth after the crew spends 4 days unloading the cargo and then loading it back up with around 1,300 pounds of equipment and spent items.
Dragon will detach from ISS on May 31st as the robotic arm will maneuver the capsule 33-feet away and release it. From there it will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and land in the Pacific Ocean near California.
While SpaceX celebrates their benchmark flight into space, other commercial companies are lining up behind them to get their share of the space pie. Some of these companies have been contracted to fly cargo to ISS such as Boeing and Blue Origin, while other ventures range from providing space flight for government and commercial research to tourism. A new space race has begun – and instead of governments battling it out to be the ‘first,’ we now have a commercial Cold War in space.