Privately owned spacecraft takes to the skies
Dragon space capsule brainchild of billionaire entrepreneur
Dragon, a privately owned space capsule took to the predawn sky on a
history-making trip to the International Space Station. Built by
billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX venture, the unmanned
capsule is the first non-governmental spacecraft to launch to the space
station. The flight ushers in a new era of partnership between the
public and private spaceflight programs.
Adding to the pop culture patina of the project, the SpaceX launch vehicle is named after the Millennium Falcon of 'Star Wars,' while the capsule got its moniker from the Peter, Paul and Mary song, 'Puff, the Magic Dragon.'
SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California goes under the more full title of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation. SpaceX launched its Dragon capsule from a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It blasted off atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, a 157-foot booster powered by nine Merlin rocket engines. NASA officials say the space station was flying 249 miles above the North Atlantic Ocean as the rocket lifted off.
There is a very special payload as well. The Falcon 9 rocket's second stage is also reportedly carrying ashes from 308 people, including actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on the 1960s television series "Star Trek," and Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper. The ashes were flown under a deal with the memorial space flight company Celestis.
Adding to the pop culture patina of the project, the SpaceX launch vehicle is named after the Millennium Falcon of "Star Wars," while the capsule got its moniker from the Peter, Paul and Mary song, "Puff, the Magic Dragon."
The recent launch marked only the second-ever launch of a Dragon capsule, and the third flight for the Falcon 9 rocket. It was the second attempt to launch the space station-bound test flight, after a launch try over the weekend was thwarted by a faulty rocket engine valve. Repairs were made and the SpaceX team counted down smoothly to Tuesday's liftoff.
"One thing that they are very good at is being able to work through launch abort and treat those problems and be prepared to go again in a very short time," Mike Horkachuck, NASA project executive for SpaceX said
The launch could be the last test flight for SpaceX under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, which is supporting the development of private-sector replacements for the cargo-delivery services of the retired space shuttles. SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract to fly at least 12 unmanned missions to the space station through 2015.
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of boosting commercial access to space and aiming for deep-space exploration, including missions to Mars. Originally saying that success was never certain or assured, Musk said the mission's uncertainty has eased up.
"Falcon flew perfectly!!" Musk wrote in a Twitter post from Falcon 9's mission control room in Hawthorne. "Dragon in orbit, comm locked and solar arrays active!! Feels like a giant weight just came off my back."
The spacecraft is due to spend its first day on orbit catching up with the 240-mile-high space station, where it will rendezvous Thursday and perform a flyby to within 1.5 miles to check its navigation systems.
© 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Dragon, SpaceX, privately owned space capsule, liftoff
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