SpaceX completed a historic demonstration mission to the space station when its Dragon capsule splashed down safely into the Pacific Thursday. Next up, the real thing.
The first commercially owned and operated cargo craft to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station ended its historic nine-day demonstration mission with a perfect spashdown in the Pacific Ocean Thursday morning local time.
Throughout its travels, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo craft carried more than cargo to and from space station. The flight also carried the aspirations of a new generation of aerospace companies hoping to expand humanity's access to space.
In many ways, the ambitious mission – though just a demonstration – represented a high-profile test of NASA's new direction. The agency in effect is turning over the keys to low-Earth orbit to the private sector. Under Geroge W. Bush, NASA moved in that direction for cargo. Under President Obama, it has expanded the goal to include humans as well.
In each case, NASA is to become a paying customer for transportation services to and from the space station rather than acting as owner and operator of the spacecraft. Meanwhile, the agency is turning its human-spaceflight attention to sending astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit.
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