December 1, 2012
Barbara A. Schmitz
You can tame wild horses or even feral cats. But astronauts living on the International Space Station have one up on you.
Expedition 33 crew members grappled a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and attached it to the orbiting space station on Oct. 8, causing Commander Sunita Williams to remark, “Looks like we’ve tamed the Dragon.”
With NASA’s shuttles now retired, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying its unmanned Dragon spacecraft launched in October to the International Space Station, and became the first contracted cargo delivery flight. It returned to Earth on Oct. 28, carrying nearly 2,000 pounds of science experiments and old station equipment.
Under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, SpaceX will fly at least 12 cargo missions to the space station through 2016 as part of a $1.6 billion contact.
“Just over one year after the retirement of the space shuttle, we have returned space station cargo resupply missions to U.S. soil and are bringing the jobs associated with this work back to America,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "The SpaceX launch … marks the official start of commercial resupply missions by American companies operating out of U.S. spaceports…”
Dragon delivered 882 pounds of supplies to the orbiting laboratory, as well as 23 microgravity experiments designed by participants of NASA’s Student Spaceflight Experiment Program. Twelve of the SSEP experiments are getting a second flight opportunity. They were delivered to the space station on a SpaceX demonstration mission in May, but were not completed. The other 11 experiments are new.
Each experiment will study the effects of microgravity on physical, chemical and biological systems. The 23 experiments represent more than 7,000 students and almost 2,000 proposals.
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