I wanted to take a break from SQL BI today to post about the success of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon spacecraft. For those that may not be up-to-date on the space program here in the United States, the Space Shuttle fleet was retired last year after more than 30 years of service. This left a huge void in the US capabilities to get supplies and astronauts up to and off of the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has been working with private industry in the US to provide these services so that NASA could focus on longer duration space missions. Many companies in the US have been competing for these contracts and SpaceX was one of the first. SpaceX was co-founded by Elon Musk, who also co-founded PayPal and Tesla Motors.
Fast forward to the last couple of years where SpaceX has had their ups and downs on getting their own rockets to launch. But in late 2010 they were able to successfully launch their Falcon 9 rocket (the number 9 signifies the number of rocket engines) with the Dragon capsule. That launch made them the first private company to launch a spacecraft of their own into orbit and return a capsule back to Earth. The next step was going to be similar with a close approach to the ISS, but not be able to dock. After proving their capabilities in that first launch NASA and SpaceX decided to combine 2 flights and allow them to attempt the docking with ISS on the next launch.
On May 22, 2012 SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 rocket with another Dragon capsule on board. This time the Dragon capsule was loaded with over 1,000 pounds of cargo for the ISS. The Dragon capsule was able to prove that it could perform the required tasks for docking and it was able to be successfully captured by the ISS on May 25, 2012. The crew of the ISS was able to open the capsule and swap out the cargo with items that could be returned to Earth. This is a very important difference then any of the other vehicles that can currently dock with the ISS, as this is the only one currently proven that can return cargo back to Earth. The Dragon capsule lands in the ocean the same way the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules used to. And today the Dragon capsule was released from ISS and safely landed in the Pacific Ocean.
This is a huge step in US space capabilities and I'm sure that it will lead to many other successes in the future for SpaceX and the other private companies that will be providing this capability. I'm sure there will be more setbacks, but I hope that these companies can continue to provide these capabilities and others. Hopefully SpaceX will also be allowed to use these Dragon capsules to take human crews up to the ISS and other space habitats built in the future and maybe even go on from there to the Moon or further.
Congratulations SpaceX and NASA!