Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Taming the Dragon


International Space Station crew members open the hatch on Dragon CRS-1. Video source: NASA.

“Looks like we've tamed the Dragon.”

— Expedition 33 commander Sunita Williams

Twenty-six minutes ahead of schedule, SpaceX made history yet again today when its Dragon capsule was grappled at 6:56 AM EDT by International Space Station crew members.

The vehicle was berthed to the station at 9:03 AM EDT. Later in the day, crew members opened the hatch at 1:40 PM EDT, again ahead of schedule.

According to a NASA press release:

While the first NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) flight to the International Space Station is historic, the delivery and more importantly the return of science samples is pivotal. Since the retirement of the shuttles, the only return capability available from the space station was via the Russian Soyuz vehicle, with cold stowage even more limited — but not anymore. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, is now able to provide this service, as well ...

This return capability will considerably enhance the amount of science that can be done, as it allows for samples to return home in a timely manner for analysis. This also frees up cold stowage space aboard station for new samples and continued research, as many samples have been kept in cold stowage until a ride home was available. Often times, researchers cannot complete analyses until the on-orbit samples are returned and evaluated.

The historic achievement of this event seems to have been lost on the national media. A cursory review of the web sites for major media — CNN, Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC — showed little if any coverage on the home pages of their web sites.

No wonder much of the public thinks the space program is over.

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