08 December 2010

Dragon Rises into History

Astronauts4Hire wishes to congratulate SpaceX on the successful launch of its Dragon spacecraft into low Earth orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket earlier today. The Dragon spent about 3 hours and 20 minutes orbiting the Earth twice before splashing down in the Pacific, where it was recovered. SpaceX joins a small club of only six space agencies that have successfully sent and recovered spacecraft from orbit.

SpaceX founder and CEO/CTO Elon Musk said of the history-making accomplishment, "It's hard to be articulate when your mind is blown." He had previously estimated only a 60% success rate for the flight, which turned out being "100 percent successful." No astronauts were aboard the Dragon capsule for its maiden flight, but Musk remarked that if it had been crewed, "they would have had a very nice ride." Perhaps someday A4H crews will travel to orbit on the Dragon.

This is good news for the future of human spaceflight. Through its COTS program, NASA has contracted SpaceX to develop supply services to the International Space Station (ISS).  On its second and third test flights next year, Dragon will journey to the ISS for rendezvous testing maneuvers and a first docking with the station. In a statement issued today, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said of the history-making mission:

This is the first in a new generation of commercial launch systems that will help provide vital support to the ISS and may one day carry astronauts into orbit. This successful demonstration flight is an important milestone ... and shows how government and industry can leverage expertise and resources to foster a new and vibrant space economy. These new explorers are to spaceflight what Lindbergh was to commercial aviation.

Earlier this week, SPACE.com reported on the technical details of the Dragon and featured an illustrative infographic of the spacecraft with humans for scale and comparisons to previous orbital space capsules. The Dragon capsule stands 2.9 meters tall and is about 3.6 meters wide at its base. It weighs 4,200 kilograms and can haul 6,000 kilgrams of payload up to low Earth orbit and bring 6,614 kilograms back down.  Once the vehicle is approved to carry human passengers, it could hold up to seven at a time. 

Parabolic Arc and the Spaceflight Now Mission Status Center provided coverage of the launch, including many photos and notes.  Video of the Falcon 9 launch and Dragon orbital segments of the mission is below.

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