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First Private Launch to Space Station

May 18th, 2012

SpaceX's Falcon 9 during a previous test flight. Photo credit: SpaceX/Chris Thompson


Update: May 31, 2012 — They did it! SpaceX has become the first private company to visit the International Space Station! For more information and pictures from their site, you can visit SpaceX .

May 18, 2012 — Testing, testing … 3, 2, 1. History might just be made tomorrow as a private company is set to be the first ever to make a trip to the International Space Station (ISS). Until now, only governments’ space agencies have done so.  Even then not many countries have gone. It’s not so easy!

The company, SpaceX , is partnering with the US government’s space agency (NASA) to make it happen. They’re sending up a rocket, called the Falcon 9 , with a capsule, called Dragon , attached to it.

There aren’t going to be any astronauts on board, it will be an unmanned flight. In fact, they’re considering it to be a bit of a test mission. If it doesn’t quite work out this time they won’t see it as a failure, rather they plan to learn from it … and then do it again (and again) if they need to.

The hardest part will be joining up with the Space Station, according to reports. NASA astronaut Donald Pettit will be controlling a robotic arm from the ISS and will need to be painstakingly accurate to attach it to the capsule, according to The New York Times .  This is after SpaceX’s Dragon capsule has to pass all sorts of systems tests in the on its way there, which should take about 3 days.

There’s about 1,000 pounds of cargo on board the capsule including food and clothes. There are also 11 student experiments that were done through the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and NanoRacks . You can read more about the experiments at NASA’s site . But some include how fast fish and spiders can grow in weightlessnes. You can see a news report about another one of the experiments below:

Wait, didn’t we just retire the Space Shuttles last summer and see them recently delivered to museums around the country? Why isn’t NASA making more, or new, shuttles?

Part of the reason is that NASA’s plan is to focus more on trips deeper into space than “low-Earth orbit” where the International Space Station is. If private companies can do this, then that’s a big help.

The launch is expected to take place Saturday morning at 4:55 am, and will be on SpaceX’s website , if the weather co-operates. Yikes, that’s early.

In the meantime, you can see more on SpaceX’s Vimeo site . And to see a  CBS 60 Minutes  profile on SpaceX’s young founder, Elon Musk, you can  click here .

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