Health & Science

Private Company Will Attempt To Reach Space Station With Cargo

Early tomorrow morning a private company, SpaceX, will launch a rocket into orbit from Cape Canaveral. Many are saying it will usher in a new era of commercialized space flight. But the mission remains highly experimental.


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The SpaceX rocket will carry a cargo vehicle known as the Dragon, and in case you were wondering it is named after Puff the Magic Dragon.

Dragon will carry about 1,000 pounds of food and clothing for the astronauts on the International Space Station, plus some student science experiments.

None of that is considered essential,  and officials say even if Dragon fails to berth with the station, that doesn’t mean the mission was a failure.

Phil McAlister is with NASA:

“NASA views test flights primarily as learning opportunities. They don’t fit very neatly into characterizations of success and failure. And if it gets us in a better posture to fly the next time, then that’s a good thing.”

Jeff Greason works for a competing rocket company and also advises the federal government on privatizing spaceflight.

Greason says anyone watching tomorrow morning should keep their expectations in check.

As an example, he compared this SpaceX launch with the historic Gemini flights of the 1960s.

“The whole Gemini program had test objectives that are in essence all being compressed into this one mission. It’s not like the first attempt to rendezvous in space on Gemini worked, so it’s a very ambitious step. I wish them all the success in the world, but as I said in the beginning if they get even halfway there, that’s still one for the books.”

Gwynne Shotwell is president of SpaceX, which is based in California and was founded by Elon Musk who created PayPal.

Shotwell says Dragon will only dock with the space station if a series of navigational tests is succesful:

“So we’ll do a fly-under, about two and a half kilometers under. Then we go in front of the space station, raise above it, start falling back behind it, and this is the re-rendezvous portion. And then we will start integrated operations around hour 70 of the mission. And then if all is going well, by hour 75 we should be berthed. Which is going to be really great.”

NASA has given contracts to a number of private spaceflight companies to jumpstart competition.

The goal is to ultimately allow the private companies to move people and cargo to and from low-earth orbit, so NASA can concentrate its budget on other things.

NASA estimates that one of the commercial carriers will fly astronauts by 2017, but SpaceX says it’s aiming to put humans inside the Dragon capsule by 2015.

From the KUHF Health and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.


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