History was made at 8:35 p.m. EDT on Sunday when a rocket owned by a private company was launched into space from Cape Canaveral; it's mission, resupplying the International Space Station (ISS).
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, is the first private company to be contracted by NASA to resupply the space station. The NASA contract is for a total of 12 missions over the next four years at a cost of $1.6-billion.
In a statement NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said: "Just over one year after the retirement of the space shuttle, we have returned space station cargo resupply missions to U.S. soil and are bringing the jobs associated with this work back to America. The SpaceX launch tonight marks the official start of commercial resupply missions by American companies operating out of U.S. spaceports like the one right here in Florida."
According to the LA Times, the SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is carrying its Dragon capsule packed with 1,000 pounds of food, experiments and supplies. The Dragon capsule will remain at the space station for approximately three weeks before it is released and parachutes back to earth at the end of October. It will return to earth with twice as much cargo as it took to the space station. Various experiments will return on the Dragon, and according to Fox News, nearly 500 samples of astronauts' blood and urine, which has remained in the freezers of ISS since July 2011, will also be packed into the Dragon for the return trip.
A NASA statement said the Dragon's ability to bring cargo back from the space station is "critical for supporting scientific research in the orbiting laboratory's unique microgravity environment, which enables important benefits for humanity and vastly increases understanding of how humans can safely work, live and thrive in space for long periods. The ability to return frozen samples is a first for this flight and will be tremendously beneficial to the station's research community. Not since the space shuttle have NASA and its international partners been able to return considerable amounts of research and samples for analysis."
SpaceX Dragon Readies for Flight
SpaceX, which is owned by Paypal co-founder Elon Musk, is just one of several private companies working with NASA to send flights to and from the space station. Musk told listeners in a Google+ "hangout" that he plans on expanding the companies space program. AFP quotes him as saying: "Next year, we're aiming to do probably four to six launches and then double it again the year after. The ultimate thing is to try to get spaceflight as routine as air flight. I don't think it can quite get there but it can get closer than it has been in the past."
Musk continued by saying: "Right now there are a lot of people that buy seats on the Russian Soyuz. If we could offer them at a lower cost, we could expand the market. Perhaps it can be brought down to being only 10 times more expensive than a seat on an airplane. It can happen. If we can make rapidly and fully reusable spacecraft."