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Dragon Flyby Sets Stage for 1st U. S. Commercial Space Station Mission

The unpiloted SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carried out a successful flyby of the International Space Staton early Thursday, a milestone in the company’s bid to achieve the first U. S. commercial re-supply mission to the orbiting science laboratory.

 

The four hour operation sent the capsule sailing a mile and a half below the six person orbital outpost just before 7:30 a.m., EDT.

The SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule approaches the International Space Station in this annimation. Image Credit/SpaceX

 

It set up a looping daylong fly around of the station and a return rendezvous early Friday. If all goes well, Dragon will maneuver to a point just 30 feet below the station. Three astronaunts clustered in the station’s Cupola observation deck will reach out with the 58-foot-long robot arm to grab Dragon shortly after 8 a.m. and then berth it to the station’s Harmony module just after 11 a.m.

Dragon’s nine day mission began with a lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station early Tuesday.

 The headline grabbing flight marks an important step in NASA’s strategy of shifting cargo and crew transport operations once handled by the shuttle to private companies.

If successful, the new approach allows NASA to re-focus its efforts on human deep space exploration, first to an asteroid, then to Mars.  The success of Dragon’s fight so far earned SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk a congratulatory call from President Obama late Wednesday.

“The president just called to say congrats,” Musk said by Twitter from his company’s Hawthorne, Calif. headquarters. “Caller ID was blocked, so at first I thought it was a telemarketer :) .”

 The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy re-tweeted Musk’s remarks, emphazing the presidential endorsement.

 U. S. and European astronauts Don Pettit, Joe Acaba and Andre Kuipers will be gathered at a Canadarm 2 control post in the station’s Cupola observation deck early Friday.

 As Dragon reaches a point 35 feet below the station, Pettit will reach out with the mechanical limb for the capture. Up early, the station astronauts plan to defer their entry into Dragon until early Saturday.

 Dragon will remain at the station until May 31. The astronauts will use the Canadarm2 to unberth and release Dragon.

The reusable freighter will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere a short time later and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California. A SpaceX recovery ship will be waiting. .

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