Nasa chief hails new era in space


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The head of Nasa has hailed a "new era" in exploration after the launch of the first cargo delivery to the space station by a private company.

The Falcon rocket, topped by an unmanned Dragon freight capsule, lifted clear of its Florida pad at 03:44 EDT (07:44 GMT; 08:44 BST).

The launch system has been built by California-based firm SpaceX.

The initial climb to an altitude some 340km above the Earth lasted a little under 10 minutes.

Within moments of being ejected, Dragon opened its solar panels.

It also unpacked its navigation equipment.

Nasa's administrator Charles Bolden said: "Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration... The significance of this day cannot be overstated; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time.

"And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start."

It will take a couple of days to reach the station. The plan currently is for the vessel to demonstrate its guidance, control and communications systems on Thursday, at a distance of 2.5km from the International Space Station (ISS).

Dragon Spacecraft annotated

If those practice proximity manoeuvres go well, Dragon will be allowed to drive to within 10m of the station on Friday. Astronauts inside the platform will then grab the ship with a robotic arm and berth it to the 400km-high structure.

They will empty Dragon of its 500kg of food, water and equipment, before releasing it for a return to Earth at the end of the month.

For Elon Musk, the CEO and chief designer at SpaceX, Tuesday's lift-off was a special moment.

"Every bit of adrenalin in my body released at that point," he told reporters. "There's so much hope riding on that rocket, so when it worked, and Dragon worked and the solar arrays deployed, [company employees] saw their handiwork in space and operating as it should - it was tremendous elation. It's like winning the Superbowl."

The mission has major significance because it marks a big change in the way the US wants to conduct its space operations.

Nasa is attempting to offload routine human spaceflight operations in low-Earth orbit to commercial industry in a way similar to how some large organisations contract out their IT or payroll.

The carriage of freight will be the first service to be bought in from external suppliers; the transport of astronauts to and from the station will be the second, later this decade.

The US space agency hopes these changes will save it money that can then be invested in exploration missions far beyond Earth, at destinations such as asteroids and Mars.

SpaceX mission control SpaceX mission control celebrates a successful ascent to orbit for Falcon and Dragon

SpaceX has many new systems it has to demonstrate in the coming days, and has tried to lower expectations ahead of the mission, repeating often that its aim is to learn things it did not previously know.

Nasa has set the California company a series of development milestones. Only when those have been met fully will a $1.6bn ISS re-supply contract kick in.

The agency is also looking to engage a second cargo partner. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Virginia is slightly behind SpaceX in its development schedule, although it started work on its Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule system later. Orbital expects to fly a first mission to the vicinity of the ISS later this year or early in 2013.

"We're really at the dawn of a new era in space exploration, and one where there's a much bigger role for commercial space companies," Mr Musk said.

"I think perhaps there's some parallels to the internet in the mid-90s where the internet was created as a government endeavour but then the introduction of commercial companies really accelerated the growth of the internet."

SpaceX launch behind a shuttle model Out with the old: Since the retirement of the shuttles last year, the US has relied on other ISS partners for cargo and crew transport

Tuesday's Falcon launch was also notable for the small and rather unusual payload that piggy-backed the ride to orbit.

This was a container holding the cremated remains of more than 300 space enthusiasts, among them the late Star Trek actor James "Scotty" Doohan.

The ashes had been placed in the Falcon's discarded second stage.

They will continue to circle the planet for about a year before falling back to Earth and vaporizing. and follow me on Twitter


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  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Name Number 6 wrote:

    "Isn't it the united STATES of America?"

    Americans don't view their states as countries. We are not the E.U.

    By the way, Mexico's full name is the United States of Mexico, just like America's. Maybe you should tell the BBC to refer to state names from now on when referring to Mexican companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Space....probably the only place you can avoid the 'Go Compare' adverts!
    Good luck SpaceX

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    A lot of people in UK could learn from this example of American enterprise. I know we do have good industries but the Yanks ask how things can be done rather than how they cant, and they dont moan all the time - good for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    #78 Chosen One
    This is a great moment for space exploration and we should (most people are) be celebrating, but here you are, only finding fault.
    Are you not happy unless you are sad? How sad!
    The world really is a great place and I am very proud of it. If you live in London and hate it, then why do you live there....!!!
    Who is the one being silly. Let the raters judge!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.


    Is the question not then why can a company make a profit, AND come in cheaper than NASA? If NASAs building programme was operated like ULA then it would be cheaper still no?

    There are problems on both sides of the story. IMO profit anywhere means waste somewhere. I grant that to most folk that's an extreme view and don't expect anyone to agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    A "400km high structure" would be a giant space station!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    To boldly go where no capitalist has gone before.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Re Alabama... Quite fiew rockets have been assembled in that state.

    Btw. Never heard of anybody referring to Boeing Co. as a Washington State corporation. Or to Lockheed-Martin as California company.

    [Not that anybody at BBC has ever referred to CIA as Virginia Co. :-)]

    There's something in the name 'America' , let alone 'U$A' which causes alergic reactions in the failed EU/EZ states.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    @77. Shift That Paradigm
    "The first move is to sort out a decent money system that is not cruelly and entirely rigged in favour of bankers and their little political helpers."

    Oh just stop fighting unnecessary wars. The cost of the war in Afganistan would have paid to put a man on Mars 6 times over at least.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    A wonderful success. Some short-sighted governments might be giving up on space, thankfully private industry is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    PeteTrollo wrote:

    "so if the Beeb said it was launched from America, it could have come from Canada, Chile, Guatemala, etc They're all part of the continent of America, aren't they?"

    There is no "continent of America." There are two including that name. Whether you like it or not America is also a country, which I am sure you know, and the reporter is obviously not referring to any continents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    @64. And_here_we_go_again
    '....Not to mention GPS and disaster mapping - the entent of a drought (e.g. in Ethiopia) can be much better assessed by a satellite than from the ground.....'
    After which nothing is or can done about it that makes much difference.

  • Comment number 78.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    It is my view that we can afford both to sort out virtually all our problems here on Earth AND to get much more seriously involved in space exploration.

    The first move is to sort out a decent money system that is not cruelly and entirely rigged in favour of bankers and their little political helpers.

    It really is as simple as that. It really really is. It is not rocket science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    @ 23. Little_Old_Me
    NASA took billions and made some pretty pictures of what Constellation (proposed shuttle replacement) might look like, despite the fact it borrowed heavily from Apollo and should have been easy to build. On $1.6bn, SpaceX have designed 3 rockets, run 8 launches and flown two capsules. Development of the engines and Falcon 1 were self-funded, at which point NASA started funding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    I much prefer to say that I am from England than Nuneaton....well wouldn't you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    69. AllenT2

    "I don't want to be associated with the entire US. As an expat, I prefer to say I'm from California than from the US"

    That would be silly since California isn't a country.
    Isn't it the united STATES of America?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    "As an expat, I prefer to say I'm from California than from the US."

    Of course if after a major eartquake along San Andreas Fault California separates from the US and sinks that'll still be your preference, right?

    Just as now re current California deficit vis-a-vis entire US deficit?

    P.S. Say hello from me (a former CA resident/taxpayer) to
    resurrected looney gov. Moonbeam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    #67 I am the chosen one

    I gues being the chosen one, your idea is that you would be saved by the aliens....I look ot of my window and see a beautiful wood, green, birds singing and a lovely blue sky.....'sfunny, it doesn't look as though we have destroyed the planet to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.


    Lets see what we can sell it for! The real modern mentality. And who cares if we cock everything up, technology will advance enough for us to sort it all out by then!

    I agree, the way we are at the moment we're more of an infection than a civillisation, but hopefully we'll see the errors we've made and learn a bit more based on what we find out there.


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