X marks the spot in space history

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The test flight of the Dragon space capsule, which launched atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, aims to show that commercial industry can restore US access to the ISS after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet last year.

The mission is set to include a fly-by and berthing with the station in the next three days, before the capsule returns to Earth at the end of this month.

Shortly after liftoff, the cargo- carrying spacecraft entered orbit and video images showed mission-control staff at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, jumping from their seats, hugging and clapping.

SpaceX chief executive and internet entrepreneur Elon Musk said watching the rocket rise from the launch pad was an “extremely intense moment.”

Speaking after the apparently flawless launch, he added: “Every bit of adrenaline in my body released at that point.”

The flight was unmanned, but six astronauts are already at the space lab to help the capsule latch on, to unload supplies and then restock the capsule with cargo to take back to Earth.

The spacecraft’s sensors and flight systems are to undergo a series of tests tomorrow to see if it is ready to berth. If NASA gives the green light, the Dragon will then approach the ISS on Friday in an attempt to berth with the station.

The astronauts onboard the ISS will maneuver the station’s robotic arm to help capture the capsule and attach it to the orbiting research outpost.

The hatch of the Dragon is set to open on Saturday for unloading 521 kilograms of cargo for the space lab and restocking it with a 660-kilogram load for the return journey.

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X marks the spot in space history

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