This morning the unmanned SpaceX Dragon spacecraft berthed with the International Space Station. It was the first commercial mission to the space station, and the first American vehicle there since the Space Shuttles retired last year.
SpaceX came up from propulsion chief Tom Mueller’s garage and financing from CEO Elon Musk through design, test, and flight of all-new engines, rockets, and spacecraft in ten years and under a billion bucks, or just 2/3 the cost of a single space shuttle mission.
Tomorrow morning at about 6:40am CST/7:40 EST, the space station crew members will open the hatches connecting the station with the vehicle and unpack food, equipment, experiments, and other supplies.
The Dragon is pressurized, and the design is on track to fly crews to orbit starting in 2015. Meanwhile, SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract to supply the space station with at least 12 upcoming flights. Assuming all goes well with the remainder of the current test mission—which includes reloading the Dragon with return cargo and a hoped for safe splashdown in the Pacific—the first flight under the cargo contract will launch as soon as September.
“It’s just a fantastic and I think a great day for the country and the world,” said Musk in a post-flight press conference. Up next for SpaceX: preparing for crew flights, building a new, heavy-lift rocket, and working to make the rockets and spacecraft reusable. Said Musk:
“I’m really excited because this is a crucial step, and having achieved this step, it makes the things in the future and the ultimate path towards humanity becoming a multiplanet species much, much more likely. The chance of that happening just went up dramatically, so people should be really excited about that.”
I know I am! Hat tip to Ryan L. Kobrick, PhD, aka @RyInSpace on Twitter, for the title for this post.