A reusable SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California on Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 12:22 p.m. PDT, successfully completing the first resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) by a private corporation, as reported by BBC News, CNET, GlobalPost, and other media sources.
The Hawthorne, Calif. company has a $1.6 billion dollar contract with NASA to ferry food and materials up to the orbiting station, and return scientific specimens and other products back to Earth. NASA awarded the contract to SpaceX on December 23, 2008. It provides for a minimum of 12 cargo missions under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services program.
SpaceX had previously completed orbital tests of its navigation systems and abort procedure. It has successfully linked up with the ISS on May 25, 2012, and returned to earth on May 31.
The first operational resupply mission, SpaceX CRS-1, was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) on Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 8:34 p.m. EDT. The unmanned capsule remained aloft for almost 3 weeks, prior to its release yesterday for re-entry and splashdown.
The Dragon capsule was lifted into orbit by a Falcon 9 launch vehicle, a two-stage rocket that uses liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellants. The rocket can carry a payload of up to 29,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit (LEO). Currently all manned space stations and the majority of artificial satellites have been placed in low-Earth orbit.
A competing private company, Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC), located in Loudoun County, Va., uses a Cygnus spacecraft launched by a 2 or 3 stage Antares rocket carrying a payload of 11,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. NASA awarded Orbital up to 8 cargo resupply missions to be launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, south of Chincoteague, Va. The Company expects to make a demonstration mission to the ISS at some time during 2013.
SpaceX appears to have an edge in the privatization of space exploration, with one successful mission already completed to the ISS, and the fourth flight of the Company's two-stage Falcon 9 launch vehicle. While the Dragon capsule currently carries only cargo, it plans to later carry humans between Earth and the ISS.
The founder of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, is Elon Musk, a 41-year-old South Africa-born American entrepreneur and inventor. Musk is also the co-founder of Tesla Motors, PayPal, and SolarCity, a U.S. provider of energy services.
Known as a maverick entrepreneur, Elon Musk likes to set big goals. According to a report by ABC News Nightline on August 6, 2012, Musk plans to put people on Mars in 12 to 15 years, saying, "I'm confident at this point that it can be done. I think it would be the most difficult thing that humanity has ever tried to do."
For visionaries like Musk, there are no limits to human potential. The possibilities extend outside the International Space Station, and even to Mars and beyond.
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