In a moment that is nothing short of being historic, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule has locked itself into the International Space Station (ISS), making it the first commercial company to carry out a space operation, according to reports by NASA. It was on Friday that the International Space Station's Expedition 31 crew attached the Dragon capsule to the ISS. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was quoted as saying, “Today marks another critical step in the future of American spaceflight. Now that a U.S. company has proven its ability to resupply the space station, it opens a new frontier for commercial opportunities in space — and new job creation opportunities right here in the U.S. By handing off space station transportation to the private sector, NASA is freed up to carry out the really hard work of sending astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before. The Obama Administration has set us on an ambitious path forward and the NASA and SpaceX teams are proving they are up to the task.“
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifting off
Prior to Dragon's final ISS approach, it underwent a series of system tests on Thursday. On the same day, the capsule also managed a successful fly-under of the space station and got approval from NASA to proceed on Friday. During its own approach to the ISS, the Dragon capsule also carried out a series of detailed test maneuvers. These tests were crucial to the Dragon capsule, since this way it would demonstrate its capabilities of maneuvering and even aborting before making the final approach to the ISS and gradually moving into a 65-foot (20-meter) “berthing box”. Once Dragon reached this berthing box, NASA astronaut Don Pettit used the robotic arm at 9:56 a.m. EDT and managed to grip it. Further, European Space Agency's astronaut Andre Kuipers “installed the capsule on the bottom of the station's Harmony node at 11:52 a.m. NASA astronaut Joe Acaba completed berthing operations by bolting the Dragon to Harmony at 12:02 p.m.”
NASA, explaining the goal of the mission stated that, “The goal of the mission is to launch a SpaceX Dragon capsule to the International Space Station to demonstrate cargo delivery using privately built spacecraft. It will be a landmark accomplishment because no privately constructed spacecraft has docked with the orbiting laboratory.”
The Dragon capsule's visit to the ISS is to deliver 1,014 pounds of supplies to the station, which includes non-critical experiments, food, clothing and technology. Crew members will open the capsule's hatch to unload the cargo, over the course of four days and will load the Dragon capsule with 1,014 pounds of supplies of hardware and cargo that are no longer required onboard the spacecraft. On May 30th, Dragon and station hatches will be closed. And finally, on May 31, the crew members of Expedition 31 will detach Dragon from Harmony node, “maneuver it to a 33-foot release point and un-grapple the capsule”. The Dragon will then deorbit, which roughly would be four hours after leaving the station. It will take about 30 minutes for it to re-enter Earth's atmosphere and will land in the Pacific Ocean about 250 miles west of southern California.
The Dragon capsule that lifted off on Tuesday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, didn't have an all smooth start. On May 19, 2012, which was when the Dragon capsule was originally scheduled for a lift-off aboard SpaceX Falcon 9, the launch had to be aborted only moments after the engines ignited, since the computers recorded higher pressure readings than was allowed.