On Saturday, May 19, Space X's Dragon spacecraft will become the first commercial spacecraft to fly to the International Space Station (weather permitting, of course). Since the demise of the Space Shuttle, this is now the only ship in the U.S. capable of carrying supplies and astronauts to the ISS and then returning in one piece. And those guys up there need some new food.
Space X is a private space exploration company, the other project of Elon Musk (of Tesla fame). In December, 2010, the company proved that it’s Falcon 9 rocket was capable of delivering the Dragon spacecraft into orbit, and then recovering it after it landed. Before that, only three governments--the U.S., Russia, and China--had ever completed that feat.
This next launch will be the next step in proving that the private company can take over more and more duties from our cash-strapped space agency. Here’s what the mission will look like:
The Falcon 9 will shoot the Dragon into orbit. It will circle the planet for two days, undergoing tests, until it meets up with the ISS. If NASA gives the green light, Dragon will dock with the space station, unload and take in supplies, and then drop to Earth somewhere in the Pacific west of Southern California.
With NASA’s budget continually threatened, public-private space travel partnerships are going to be how we continue to get people and supplies into orbit and beyond. That is, if this next step works.