Dragon capsule makes successful, historic docking at International Space Station
SpaceX made history on Friday when its Dragon capsule was the first private space vehicle to be launched to and dock with the International Space Station. But that could just be the beginning for this privately owned space vehicle.
There's a private space ship docked at the International Space Station for the first time, ever.
Space station astronauts used the station's robotic arm to grab the Dragon space vehicle from SpaceX, carrying non-essential supplies to the space station. The hope is that this particular vehicle will be able to pick up some of the space launches that were done by the U.S. Space Shuttle.
Astronauts Donald Pettit told Mission Control that he'd caught a dragon by its tail.
Pat Duggins, Alabama Public Radio news director and author of “Trailblazing Mars,” said this is a much-anticipated step for space travel and space business. The private sector has long been expected to play a larger role in space exploration, a role it's only now stepping into.
"Today's arrival of the SpaceX Dragon capsule is a baby step in fulfilling that vision," Duggins said.
SpaceX was founded by billionaire Elon Musk, who helped create PayPal.
Musk says it's a matter of national pride to get an American company back in the space launching business. As it stands right now, American cargo for the Space Station, including astronauts, have to go up on space vehicles from other nations. The Dragon capsule may change that, however.
"If you look closely at the design of the Dragon capsule, there are portholes on this capsule. All of us in the space reporting business thought, there's really not all that much reason that cargo would have to look out a window. So something's going on," Duggins said. "Obviously, they're talking about modifying the Dragon capsule you saw today, put seven seats in there, extra safety systems and, eventually, send up human beings."
Duggins said one key difference between the Dragon capsule and other Russian- and European-designed cargo ships is that the Dragon is designed to return to earth, while those cargo ships burn up upon re-entry.
"That will be critical if (Musk) wants to make Dragon a manned capsule," Duggins said. "Getting cargo up there is one thing, getting a crew back safely is another."
NASA is working with a number of companies to develop private businesses that can take cargo and eventually people to space.
Boeing and Lockheed Martin are among a consortium trying to build another privately-owned passenger vehicle to take astronauts into space.