(MSNBC) The International Space Station’s crew reached out today with a robotic arm to grab SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule and brought it in for the orbital outpost’s first-ever hookup with a commercial spaceship.
It marks the station’s first linkup with a U.S.-made spacecraft since last year’s retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet, and potentially opens the way for dozens of commercial cargo shipments. If the long-range plan unfolds as NASA hopes, U.S. astronauts could be shuttled back and forth on the Dragon or similar spacecraft within just a few years.
Today’s hookup comes after Tuesday’s successful launch of the Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket, and represents the culmination of years of planning and hundreds of millions of dollars of spending by NASA and California-based SpaceX, known more formally as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. The company was founded a decade ago by dot-com billionaire Elon Musk, with aspirations of eventually sending humans to settle on Mars.
But first things first: Today’s operation marked the first full in-space test of the robotic Dragon spacecraft’s procedure for approaching the station, and for that reason, every step along the way was carefully planned out and checked over the course of several hours. The first steps in the procedure were tested on Thursday, during a series of maneuvers that successfully brought the 14-foot-long, 12-foot-wide, gumdrop-shaped capsule within 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) of the $100 billion space station.