Space Exploration Technologies or “SpaceX” made history at 11:52 a.m. EDT when its Dragon spacecraft was berthed to the International Space Station (ISS). The arrival of the Dragon marked a three-day period starting on May 22 at 3:44 a.m. when SpaceX launched the cargo vessel to the ISS. From there the reusable spacecraft met milestone-after-milestone. The spacecraft conducted all of the maneuvers required under the second demonstration flight requirements of the $1.6 billion Commercial Transportation Services (COTS) contract that SpaceX has entered into with NASA.
Today’s historic events come less than a year after the final mission of the space shuttle era, STS-135. This flight was conducted by space shuttle Atlantis which wrapped up the shuttle era in July of 2011. This makes Dragon, a commercial vehicle, the first U.S. spacecraft to travel to the ISS since then. The official time when the berthing occurred was 12:02 a.m. EDT, making the mission length a total of 3 days, 8 hours and eighteen minutes.
NASA Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffredini was joined by, NASA COTS Program Manager Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA Flight Director Holly Ridings and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a press conference to discuss the historic event.
“We had a really great day in space, my hats off to the SpaceX team… We started out with the Dragon spacecraft just in front of the ISS then we began maneuvering the spacecraft around and under the space station eventually seeing the spacecraft end up where it began its maneuvers. This gave us the opportunity to see things that we had not seen before, to learn how the Dragon flies,” Ridings said. “Flying in space really with two dynamic vehicles is first about work and second about trust. So for the last seven years we’ve worked with the SpaceX team to help build that teamwork, that trust.”
The mood in Hawthorne was jubilant with frequent (and loud cheers) drowning out the press conference’s speakers. Musk and company rolled with it, acknowledging that the team at SpaceX had worked hard and had earned the right to celebrate.
Musk went on to thank the entire SpaceX team, which caused them to erupt in cheers, one cried out, “We love you!” Musk responded with, “I love you too!”
This marks the second (and third – more on that in a moment) demonstration flight for SpaceX under the COTS contract. Initially, SpaceX was to just rendezvous with the ISS, however, SpaceX lobbied for and received permission to conduct the objectives of both the second and third demonstration flights – into one. If any of the objectives are not met – a third demonstration flight will be conducted. At this point in the mission – this looks very unlikely of being required. SpaceX has met each milestone placed in front of it.
“This has been the culmination of an enormous amount of work by the SpaceX team in partnership with NASA and we’re just incredibly excited…There is just so much that could have gone wrong – but it all went right,” Musk said. “It’s just a fantastic day, a great day for the country and the world and I think it will be recognized as a historical step forward in space travel.”
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