NASA, SpaceX move forward toward launching first commercial vehicle ever to ISS

April 16, 2012 5:47:42 PM PDT
With the space shuttle program in retirement, NASA is working with commercial companies to transport supplies to the International Space Station. And in just two weeks, we'll get our first real look at how that partnership will work. On Monday, NASA officials gathered at the Johnson Space Center to discuss the upcoming mission.

This is a significant milestone. After a readiness review Monday, NASA and SpaceX are moving forward toward launching the first commercial vehicle ever to the International Space Station.

April 30 is now the official launch date targeted for the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon. That's two weeks from Monday. It's a demonstration test and a chance for the California company to prove it can safely deliver cargo to the space station.

"I think our odds of success on this mission are grater than 50 percent," said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

He told us in a one-on-one interview he is optimistic the mission will prove a success. But he knows there are hurdles to overcome.

"But it is a test flight, and there's certainly any number of things that could go wrong," Musk said.

Once launched the Dragon will perform eight tasks, attempting to prove itself ready and safe for flight, eventually with astronauts on board. The unmanned capsule will fly around the space station before being grabbed by its giant robotic arm and birthing with the orbiting outpost.

Onboard will be 1,100 pounds of cargo including food and provisions for ISS crews. After more than two weeks, it will bring home nearly 1,400 pounds of hardware and experiments, landing off California in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX is one of four companies contracted with NASA to build a vehicle that will help service the ISS, replacing the recently retired space shuttle. SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for at least 12 flights to the station. NASA officials say getting to this point where they feel comfortable confirming a launch date has been no easy task.

"It's been a tremendous learning experience for both of us. We have definitely learned some things from SpaceX and hope they've learned some things from us as we go through," said William Gerstenmaier with NASA.

Weather constraints are very similar to that for a shuttle launch. NASA says rain, lightning and winds will always be a concern. If for some reason the launch on April 30 is scrubbed, they can try again the first week of May.


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