Early Tuesday morning, SpaceX sent the privately-owned, towering white rocket Falcon on a mission to the international space station. The Falcon was carrying the unmanned Dragon capsule at 3:44 EDT and was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., marking the first time a private company has sent a spacecraft to the space station.
“Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a speech at the cape. “And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start.”
The launch was just the start. The real challenge is what lies ahead.
The Dragon capsule will rendezvous with the space station as it circles the Earth at about 17,000 mph. Once the Dragon catches up to the station, it must complete a series of complicated tests to decide if it is ready to dock. If all goes well, the crew aboard the station will snag the spacecraft with a robotic arm and lead it in. SpaceX hopes to dock the Dragon, which is designed to carry up to seven astronauts, as early as Friday.