Wednesday, December 28, 2011

X Marks The Spot

The first-ever private attempt to dock with the orbiting space lab draws near.
NASA says SpaceX will fly its Dragon capsule on an unmanned mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in February, probably on the 7th.
SpaceX's made incredible progress over the last few months preparing Dragon for this mission, but says a significant amount of critical work remains before launch and warns the date may be adjusted.
In Dec.2010, SpaceX - owned by Elon Musk, Internet entrepreneur and founder of PayPal - became the first commercial outfit to send a spacecraft into orbit and back.
The main goals of the February flight include a fly-by of the ISS at a distance of two miles, and a berthing operation in which Dragon will approach the space station and the ISS crew will use a robotic arm to help it latch on.
After the test mission, the ISS crew will reverse the process, detaching Dragon from the station for its return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific. If the operation is not successful, SpaceX will attempt it again in another new test flight.
This effort is part of a race between private companies to create a spacecraft capable of replacing the US space shuttle which retired earlier this year. The US Congress has earmarked $406m for the commercial crew effort for 2012, considerably less than NASA's requested $850m.
As the first manned mission by a private company is not expected until about 2015, the world's astronauts must currently pay Russia US$50-60m for rides to the ISS aboard its Soyuz there's certainly serious money to be made by the private company that eventually cracks this nut!

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