Private spaceship ready to blast into future of US spaceflight

Private spaceship ready to blast into future of US spaceflight

Cape Canaveral : FL : USA | Oct 14, 2012 at 10:24 PM PDT
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It's 2012; do you know where your spaceship is?

Sunday's expected launch of a private spacecraft carrying supplies to the International Space Station opens a monumental new chapter in how earthlings relate to the cosmos.

What had previously been the province only of the top experts at the world's largest governmental organizations has become fodder for competition among companies and entrepreneurs to innovate and build better ships.

Star Trek was never like this.

A California rocket builder that rushed to fill the void left by the retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet steps into it Sunday when its Falcon rocket lifts off with 1,000 pounds of supplies for the space station.

SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., is slated to launch its supply mission to the space station on Sunday, and its biggest competitor, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is not far behind.

The two U.S. companies are the first private enterprises with NASA contracts to replace the shuttles.

If all goes as expected, SpaceX -- the company headed by billionaire Elon Musk, will launch its privately built Dragon capsule atop its privately built Falcon 9 rocket.

The launch "begins a new era for spaceflight and the International Space Station," NASA space station director Sam Scimemi said, according to the website

"These flights are critical to the space station's sustainment and to help begin its full utilization," he said.

Sunday's liftoff is scheduled for 8:35 p.m. EDT.

The capsule is expected to arrive at the station on Wednesday.

SpaceX's $1.6 billion contract with NASA calls for at least 12 flights to deliver 20 metric tons of supplies.

SpaceX plans to upgrade its capsule and rockets to launch seven-person crews to the space station, which is in continuous earth orbit, the website said.

NASA expects that having commercial companies operating the shipments will free up its experts to concentrate on building new ships for deep space exploration.

"We're very excited -- this is the first time we're taking a powered cargo up," SpaceX President Gywnne Shotwell said.

Sunday's cargo includes 23 student experiments, astronaut food and a batch of ice cream, NASA officials said.

A Solano County, Calif., travel agency announced last month that it would begin selling tickets -- at $95,000 each -- for suborbital flights offered by a third company, XCOR Aerospace of Mohave, which expects to be blasting off next year.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands ready to take off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and send a supply capsule to the International Space Station that launches a new era in space travel.Photo: Jim Grossman/NASA
Nathan Salant is based in San Francisco, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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