Are you ready for commercial space flight?
The long-awaited dream came one step closer at 8:35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tonight, when the first-ever commercial flight to the International Space Station blasted off, reports the New York Times.
The flight is only carrying cargo this time around, as private transportation for people is still several years away, said NASA, which is launching a whole new era of space flight in which private companies will transport people and supplies to low orbits around the Earth.
Space Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, Calif., or SpaceX, launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The rocket has a “Dragon” capsule with about 1,000 pounds of food, clothing and equipment. In addition, several science experiments, including 23 built by students are on board.
SpaceX’s ship also includes a freezer on board that can store lab samples at up to 300 degrees below zero. The capsule will arrive at the space station Wednesday and remain docked for a few weeks.
1. It’s Not the First One Up
No company would send off its first effort without a test drive first. SpaceX actually launched its first capsule to the space station in a test flight in May, and shot off a test launch before that. Sunday’s flight, though, is the first of a dozen more planned.
2. Under Contract with NASA
Sunday’s flight is the first of a series taking place under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for cargo transportation. According to SpaceX, NASA announced the selection of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon Spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) in December 2008. The $1.6 billion contract represents a minimum of 12 flights, with an option to order additional missions for a total contract value of up to $3.1 billion.
3. Bringing Back Cargo, Too
The Dragon is bringing back twice as much cargo as it’s taking up, including nearly 500 blood and urine samples from astronauts. the samples have been stored in freezers since Atlantis made its last shuttle flight in July 2011.
4. Sticking Around for Three Weeks
The SpaceX Dragon will be at the space station for three weeks before it’s released and heads back to earth. It’ll land in the Pacific, with the use of a parachute.
5. It’s Carrying a Surprise
There’s a great surprise waiting for the three space station residents – some chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream is tucked away in the Dragon’s freezer. Can you have sprinkles in space, too?
6. SpaceX and PayPal Have a Connection
PayPal co-founder Elon Musk owns SpaceX. And while the company is working to convert the unmanned Dragon capsules into vehicles that can carry astronauts to the space station, that won’t be for another three years. And no, you can’t buy your way aboard through your PayPal account.
7. Wanna Fly? Call the Russians
There are some other U.S. companies vying to carry crews, but for now, Americans who want to orbit in space must go up with the Russians, but it costs a ton of money.
8. It’s No Fantasy Ride
Musk monitored the launch from SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne. He called the capsules Dragon after “Puff the Magic Dragon,” to reply to critics who have been ridiculing his work as being a fantasy. And Falcon comes from the Millennium Falcon starship of Star Wars fame.
9. SpaceX is Open for Other Bids
While NASA is a major contractor, SpaceX is open for other transport services, such as satellites or other spacecraft. According to the SpaceX site, the company offers open and fixed prices, with “modest discounts” available for multi-launch deals, like NASA’s, with contracts costing millions or even billions of dollars. We don’t think they’ll accept PayPal.
The Falcon 9 liftoff is only the beginning of SpaceX’s dreams. The company is also working to launch Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, which will represent the company’s entry into heavy-lift launch vehicles. It has the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft that weighs over 53 metric tons to low Earth orbit. It lifts nearly twice the payload of the Space Shuttle.