In a carefully choreographed event that felt more like an pop music awards show or an Apple product launch than anything we're used to with space flight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tonight unveiled the newest edition of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.
For the second time in 2012, a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has connected with the International Space Station. ISS expedition 33 crew members Akihiko Hoshide and Sunita Williams grappled Dragon and attached it to the station, completing a critical stage of the SpaceX CRS-1 cargo resupply mission.
NASA has awarded Boeing (not to be confused with "Boing Boing," you guys), SpaceX, and a Colorado-based systems integration firm more than a billion in contracts to develop spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts. The Chicago-based aerospace giant Boeing gets $460 million. Elon Musk's space transportation startup SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, CA, gets $440 million. And Sierra Nevada Corp. in Colorado gets $212.5 milion. NASA's press release is here.
Above: NASA Astronaut Rex Walheim stands inside the Dragon Crew Engineering Model at SpaceX headquarters, during a day-long review of the Dragon crew vehicle layout. (Photo: SpaceX)
At 8:42AM Pacific/11:42 AM Eastern this morning, SpaceX completed an historic mission as the business end of the Dragon capsule splashed down safely in the Pacific ocean, to be recovered by boats and head for land. From the SpaceX announcement:
Last week, SpaceX made history when its Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial vehicle in history to successfully attach to the International Space Station. Previously only four governments – the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency – had achieved this challenging technical feat. Dragon departed the space station this morning. This is SpaceX's second demonstration flight under a 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA to develop the capability to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station.
More analysis in this previous BB post from this morning's event.
Why did I see so many binders (presumably filled with paper) on the desks of the engineers at NASA's Mission control yesterday when they were docking SpaceX's Dragon module to the Space Station?
In contrast, the SpaceX folks had (almost) none at there mission control center. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the government agency is so riddled with bureaucracy that everything must be followed "by the book" so to speak. But this seems simple minded to me.
The late actor James Doohan, best known for his role as "Scotty" on the original Star Trek series, left instructions in his will that he wished to be buried in space. His family worked hard to fulfill that wish, and made arrangements with Celestis, Inc., a subdivision of the Houston-based company Space Services that offers "post-cremation memorial spaceflights."
Those remains became part of the payload for a 2008 SpaceX Falcon 1 launch attempt that didn't reach orbit because of technical problems. Each failed attempt was newly agonizing for family members, prolonging their grief and lack of closure.
But today, seven years after "Scotty's" death, SpaceX successfully launched his ashes into space. From the startrek.com website today:
Doohan’s ashes – which also were launched to space in 2008 as part of an unsuccessful mission -- were part of a secondary payload included on the second stage of the rocket, not on the Dragon itself. That payload separated from the capsule at the 9-minute, 49-second mark and is now orbiting, on its own, above the Earth. It’s expected to stay in orbit for approximately a year before descending back to Earth and disintegrating during re-entry.
Wende Doohan, James Doohan's widow, was on hand for the launch with the couple’s daughter, Sarah, now 12. Doohan posted a photo on Twitter and tweeted the following comment early today. “Sarah and I enjoyed watching a beautiful rocket launch this morning - certainly a first for her.” Also, on May 18, Doohan tweeted the attached photo of Sarah at Cape Canaveral with a caption that read “Following Daddy’s footsteps?”
In 2008, just after that last unsuccessful attempt, we shared on Boing Boing a personal account of what the process felt like for Doohan's family. It was written by Ehrich Blackhound, one of Doohan's seven children. Here it is again, below.
Rest in peace, in space, Mr. Doohan. And on behalf of all of us at Boing Boing, our best to the whole family.
Space is hard and unforgiving and there is still a lot of challenging work ahead for the SpaceX Dragon team. I would not pop the champagne corks just yet. But this is a moment to savor.
For the first time since Endeavour's wheels stopped on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011, a U.S. built spacecraft is back in Mach 25 motion - on its way to meet up with the International Space Station. Endeavour landed 42 years and one day after Neil Armstrong first left his footprints on the moon, and the J.D. Salinger of the Apollo astronaut corps has been very vocal in his opposition and skepticism about this new course in space.
But anyone who claims they are interested in the exploration of the Final Frontier must applaud this endeavor (lower case - without the "u"). It has now been more than fifty years since human beings first flew to space and little more than 500 of them have been there. Talk about the ultimate elite club.
It is high time that ended and that will never happen if the government runs its space enterprise the way it has up until now: with cost-plus contracts that provide no incentive for the private sector to think about efficiencies.
Before dawn today at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft to orbit. The mission makes SpaceX the first commercial space flight firm to attempt to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. Next, the vehicle will undergo a series of tests to assess whether it is ready to berth with the ISS. From the company announcement:
The vehicle’s first stage performed nominally before separating from the second stage. The second stage successfully delivered the Dragon spacecraft into its intended orbit. This marks the third consecutive successful Falcon 9 launch and the fifth straight launch success for SpaceX.
“We obviously have to go through a number of steps to berth with the Space Station, but everything is looking really good and I think I would count today as a success no matter what happens with the rest of the mission,” [SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon] Musk said.
If all goes according to plan, tomorrow, Saturday, May 19th, SpaceX will become the first commercial space flight company in history to head for the International Space Station. You can watch online, live, at SpaceX.com starting at 1:15 AM Pacific / 4:15 AM Eastern / 08:15 UTC. You can also follow SpaceX founder and CEO @elonmusk on Twitter. He'll live-tweet from mission control during launch.
And below, Miles and NewsHour host Hari Sreenivasan talk about the details of the mission, the engineering challenges and the other spaceflight companies vying for a chance at delivering cargo and people to low-Earth orbit.