Tuesday, May 22, 2012

SpaceX Falcon 9 takes flight for historic delivery

     SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on its fourth scheduled launch attempt on Tuesday, May 22. This flight marks a historic milestone for SpaceX as the first commercial company to resupply the International Space Station; docking with the ISS is something only a few nations have achieved. 

     Cost-cutting measures and competition have helped to lower the overall expense of this supply mission, allowing NASA to focus on their future goals in the post-shuttle era.

     “Were really at the dawn of a new era in space exploration,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and chief designer. Musk compares this new phase in space exploration to the Internet, because it was also started by government and later propelled by private business to expand its influence and depth.

     The pitch black night of 3:44 a.m. was momentarily replaced by the brilliant yellow glow of liquid fuel igniting, as the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.
As launches go, this was considered textbook, with boosters solidly firing as the rocket left the gravity of Earth to enter low orbit.

     The successful launch is only the start of a complex mission for the Dragon Capsule as it continues to undergo its testing phase. Separation from the rocket and the deployment of the solar arrays quickly followed the launch and were observed as successful. Next is the critical rendezvous and docking with the ISS to exchange some basic crew supplies and return with cargo intact.

     Some of the launch supplies delivered include food, crew clothing, pantry items and cargo bags, as well as laptops, batteries, power supply cables and ice bricks, which are being swapped out for experimental samples. The total payload amounts to 1,146 pounds, or 520 kilograms. The return flight cargo will consist of plant signaling and S.H.E.R.E. (Shear History Extensional Rheology) hardware, which tests how plants and liquid polymers behave in space environments, according to the C.O.T.S. 2 Mission Press Kit. The return cargo will be increased to 1,455 pounds, or 660 kilograms.

     “Another super great day for SpaceX and NASA, and the beginning of another historic mission in commercial spaceflight,” said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program. Lindenmoyer is responsible for overseeing the budget resources for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (C.O.T.S.) program designed to bring about practical changes associated with commercial spaceflight.

     These goals are determined by NASA as part of its commercial crew program that SpaceX competed for and won back in 2006. SpaceX is given technical support and basic funding from NASA, as they continue to work on developing a stable rocket program and dependable delivery service. NASA is now solely dependent on the commercial crews to deliver re-supplies to the ISS, and are confident of the continued success of the C.O.T.S. program.

     “We do have a lot of work left to do upcoming here in the next 73 hours or so,” said SpaceX president, Gwynne Shotwell. The craft will now have to carefully dock and resupply the ISS before returning safely hope for the mission to be considered a complete success.

     Eventually SpaceX hopes to take on manned flights to bring crews as well as supplies to the ISS, which will save NASA billions of dollars annually, and ends the reliance on the Russian space program. This also frees up financial resources, allowing NASA to further develop its new plans for space exploration and make better use of smaller budgets.

By James Tutten

(Published: May 23, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 1 and 3.)

(Above photo by NASA / Below photo by SpaceX)

Animation of the Dragon spacecraft after reaching earths orbit and deploying its solar array (Photo: SpaceX)


How exciting to be present at the historic launch of the new era in space travel. The private sector is set to take space exploration to the next level.

Linda Tutten

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