SpaceX Dragon capsule docks at Space Station

12:12 PM, May 25, 2012   |    comments
The Space Station's robotic arm grapples the Dragon spacecraft as it arrives at the ISS Friday. (CNN/NASA)
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space station astronauts have captured the Dragon.

The privately bankrolled Dragon capsule arrived at the International Space Station on Friday, making history as the first commercial delivery truck in orbit.

Astronauts Donald Pettit and Andre Kuipers used the space station's robot arm to snare the Dragon after a few hours of extra maneuvering.

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Dragon will remain at the space station for nearly a week. It will be freed next Thursday to return to Earth with a load of experiments.

NASA is handing over routine orbital flights to private business so it can concentrate on grander destinations like asteroids and Mars. The California-based SpaceX company is leading the charge under billionaire Elon Musk, who helped create PayPal.

The California-based SpaceX - officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - is one of several companies vying for the chance to launch Americans from their homeland. That ability ended with NASA's final shuttle flight last summer. To get to the space station, NASA astronauts must go through Russia, an expensive and embarrassing situation for the U.S.after a half-century of orbital self-sufficiency.

SpaceX's billionaire maestro, Elon Musk, who helped create PayPal, said he can have astronauts riding his Dragon capsules to orbit in three or four years. His Falcon 9 rockets lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Musk monitored Friday's operation from the company's Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif.

The space station has been relying on Russian, Japanese and European cargo ships ever since the shuttles retired. None of those, however, can bring anything of value back; they're simply loaded with trash and burn up in the atmosphere.

By contrast, the Dragon is designed to safely re-enter the atmosphere, parachuting into the ocean like the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules did back in the 1960s. Assuming all goes well Friday, the space station's six-man crew will release the Dragon next Thursday after filling it with science experiments and equipment.

 

(Copyright © 2012, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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