SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket early May 22, 2012 as it heads for space carrying the company's Dragon spacecraft from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida
Photo by Bruce Weaver/AFP/GettyImages.
UPDATE: SpaceX's Dragon just became the first commercial vessel to reach the International Space Station.
“Looks like we’ve got a Dragon by the tail,” NASA astronaut Donald Petit said, according to the New York Times, as the capsule was successfully grabbed by the ISS on Friday morning.
The unmanned capsule began its final approach to the International Space Station on Friday, inching ever closer to completing the first-ever commercial mission to the station. "It's a great view," Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers reported from the station as he watched the private craft approach. "The solar panels are nicely lit."
The team in control of the craft had a small hiccup earlier when there was some trouble with some laser sensors, but msnbc.com reports that eleventh-hour glitch was solved. The team successfully completed its first tests of the docking procedure on Thursday.
Tuesday, May 22: We have (privately-funded) lift-off!
California-based SpaceX made history early Tuesday morning when its Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, carrying an unmanned vessel named Dragon into orbit and marking a new commercial era for space exploration in the process.
The unmanned commercial supply capsule will deliver its 1,000 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station later this week. It is the first time that a private company has sent a vessel to the station, a mission previously reserved for only nations with major space programs, the Associated Press explains.
"Falcon flew perfectly!!" billionaire SpaceX CEO and PayPal co-creator Elon Musk tweeted from his firm's home in California. "Dragon in orbit... Feels like a giant weight just came off my back."
The launch comes three days after a faulty engine valve forced the company to abort the launch at the (literal) last second. But all seemed on track for the mission in the hours that followed Tuesday's pre-dawn launch. The vessel is expected to be within range of the ISS by Thursday, when it will begin performing practice docking maneuvers about a mile out from the station in preparation for a planned Friday arrival.
Now that U.S. space shuttles are no longer flying—NASA retired Discovery, the last of its ISS shuttle fleet in April—NASA is banking on the switch from government to firm-backed carriers to compete with the likes of Russia and Japan and prevent further outsourcing. The AP reports that U.S. companies are vying to fill those spots, and that American astronauts could carry out commercial rides to the station in three to five years' time.
You can check out photos of the launch from Florida Today here, and video below: