The Dragon Boldly Ventures Into Space
USA – History has been made this week with the successful arrival of The Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.
The Dragon,19 feet high by 12 feet wide, was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on 22nd May. This was its second attempt following failure on 19th May and makes it the first commercial space supply vessel in the world. SpaceX, based in California, is the first private organisation to send a vessel to the ISS.
NASA is investing in SpaceX, plus four other companies, to fly cargo and eventually astronauts to the ISS following the space shuttle’s retirement last year.
Carrying a capsule packed with 1,000lb of supplies, the Dragon docked at the ISS on Friday to the delight of the six ISS astronauts who donned protective gear in case of debris before venturing into its interior.
Donald Pettit, a NASA astronaut, who used the space station’s robot arm to latch on to the unmanned capsule on Friday, was the first into the Dragon’s capsule yesterday, remarking that the inside smells ‘like a brand new car’ and was clean, brilliantly white, with no dirt or other particles in evidence.
The six astronauts now have approx. 4 – 5 days to unpack their supplies of food, clothes, batteries and other essentials before refilling it with their scientific experiments and gear totalling 1,400lb before its scheduled return to earth on Thursday.
NASA is relinquishing orbital delivery work to allow it to concentrate on greater objectives, such as sending astronauts to asteroids and Mars.
Russia, Europe and Japan will maintain their program providing supplies to the ISS. Russia will go on selling rocket flights to US astronauts until SpaceX or other commercial ventures are in a position to offer them. SpaceX states its Dragons could be transporting ISS astronauts back and forth by 2015/16.
On its inaugural journey Dragon had an extra mission: sending James ‘Scotty from Star Trek’ Doohan’s ashes (and those of 307 other people) into orbit to fulfill his last desire to spend eternity resting in space.
At a minimum cost of $3,000 the ashes capsules were to be launched from the Falcon 9 rocket nine minutes into the flight. The capsules will commence a decaying orbit of Earth lasting between 10 and 240 years, until re-entering the atmosphere where they will harmlessly vaporise like a shooting star.