SpaceX Becomes First Company to Dock Ship at Space Station
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. docked a supply ship at the International Space Station in a breakthrough for commercial space travel.
Closely held SpaceX, controlled by billionaire Elon Musk, connected its unmanned Dragon capsule to the station at 12:02 p.m. New York time, according to Kyle Herring, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is the first company to accomplish the feat.
"This is truly a momentous accomplishment for SpaceX and for the industry," Michael Lopez-Alegria, president of the Washington-based Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said in a statement. The country is on its way to having a cost-effective space transportation system, he said, and SpaceX should be thanked for "restoring U.S. access to the space station."
NASA retired its shuttle fleet last year and wants the private sector to take over the job of carrying supplies and eventually astronauts to the station. The U.S. currently relies on the governments of Europe, Japan and Russia for that work.
After almost three years of delays in the mission, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Dragon ship, on May 22 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. A previously scheduled attempt on May 19 was called off with a half-second left in the countdown because of a faulty engine valve.
Herring called it a "historic day," and said a press conference was scheduled for 1 p.m.
Astronaut Don Pettit, with help from colleague Andrew Kuipers, grabbed the craft with the 60-foot-long robotic arm at 9:56 a.m. New York time. Actual docking, or berthing, was completed at 12:02 p.m.
The Obama administration in 2010 canceled a program to develop a shuttle successor, betting the private sector would offer lower costs.
SpaceX is among several companies that have won a total of more than $1 billion in NASA contracts to develop the technology to transport cargo and crew into space.
The group includes Orbital Sciences Corp. (ORB), based in Dulles, Virginia; Blue Origin LLC, based in Kent, Washington; Boeing Co. (BA), based in Chicago; and Paragon Space Development Corp., based in Tucson, Arizona.
The others are Sierra Nevada Corp., based in Sparks, Nevada; and United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), based in Bethesda, Maryland.
Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK), based in Arlington, Virginia, has teamed up with Lockheed and Astrium, part of Leiden, Netherlands-based European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., in offering the Liberty rocket to compete for NASA business.
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