HAWTHORNE (CBS/AP) — The world’s first private supply ship successfully docked at the International Space Station Friday morning.
The unmanned SpaceX Dragon became the first U.S. vessel to visit the space station since NASA’s shuttles retired last summer — and the first private spacecraft to ever make a delivery. The Dragon is carrying 1,000 pounds of provisions.
“It’s exciting to be an American and part of putting American spacecraft into orbit, and we’re very proud right now,” SpaceX mission director John Couluris said.
SpaceX’s near-term objective is to help stockpile the space station, joining Russia, Europe and Japan in resupply duties. In three or four more years, however, the company run by the billionaire who co-founded PayPal, Elon Musk, hopes to be launching station astronauts.
It is the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s strategy for NASA: turning over orbital flights to private business so the space agency can concentrate on destinations farther afield, like asteroids and Mars. Several U.S. companies are vying for the opportunity.
Obama called Musk on Wednesday, a day after Dragon’s flawless launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
“The President just called to say congrats. Caller ID was blocked, so at first I thought it was a telemarketer,” Musk said via Twitter early Thursday. He ended his tweet with a smiley emoticon.
Musk monitored a practice operation from the SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne on Thursday.
On Friday morning, two of the space station’s six astronauts, Kuipers and Donald Pettit, used the space station’s robot arm to grab the Dragon and attach it to the complex. The crew will have just under a week to unload the contents before releasing the spacecraft for re-entry next Thursday. It is the only supply ship designed to return to Earth with experiments and equipment; the others burn up in the atmosphere.
SpaceX wants to provide regular service at much faster flight rates than the government-sponsored cargo ships, Couluris said. Two more supply trips are planned by year’s end.
The space shuttles used to be the primary means of getting things to and from the space station. Shuttle Discovery is now a museum relic, with Endeavour and Atlantis soon to follow.
Aboard the bell-shaped Dragon — 19 feet tall and 12 feet across — is food, clothes, batteries and other space station gear.
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