This Week at Cape Canaveral

Commercial Space flight took another big step forward this week at Cape Canaveral. Photo Credit: NASA

Kennedy Space Center and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station have long been places where history takes place – this week was no different. For the first time in history, a commercial space company did what previously only nations attempted – launching and returning safely to Earth a spacecraft and its payload.

SpaceX becomes first company to safely return spacecraft to Earth

On December 8, at 10:43 a.m. EDT, 15:43 UDT – Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched the second of its Falcon 9 rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40. This marked the first flight of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract with the Dragon spacecraft being hoisted into orbit.

The Dragon completed several orbits before landing safely in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California. Its payload consisted of patches and a wheel of La Brouere Cheese among other items. The successful reentry, splashdown and recovery marks the first time that a private organization has accomplished this feat. Prior to this, only six other nations have recovered a spacecraft from orbit.

The launch was delayed when cracks were discovered in the second stage’s engine nozzle. However, SpaceX technicians made short work of the repairs, trimming off the damaged component and moving ahead with the flight. The launch took place on the second attempt after an abort was called on the first launch attempt.

SpaceX has signaled its intent to step up the pace of the COTS contract and therein begin conducting supply flights to the International Space Station (ISS). Under the COTS contract SpaceX is required to conduct 3 demonstration flights (Wednesday’s flight was the first of these) and 12 resupply missions to the orbiting outpost. It is hoped that if all goes well, the Dragon spacecraft will one day ferry astronauts to the space station.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch complex 40 at 10:43 a.m. EDT, 15:43 UDT on Dec. 8, 2010. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/
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