SpaceX Falcon 9 Heads for Heaven With Dragon Capsule Mockup

An earlier test of the Falcon Rocket.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral this morning, bearing unmanned mockup of the Dragon Capsule intended to ferry cargo and personnel to the International Space Station, successfully separated from the Falcon launch rocket.

The NASA site is vague on details as of this writing, but CNN has the locker-room talk.

The Dragon differs from SpaceShip One, the first commercial space vehicle everyone got so worked up about a few years back. SpaceShip one looked ultra-cool, and was was built on an innovative model that essentially grew from the Space Shuttle. It brought plenty innovation, but it was basically a spaceplane like the Shuttle.

The Dragon, on the other hand, is retro-fabulous. It’s a capsule model — more like the orbital and re-entry craft the Mercury and Gemini astronauts rode in.

The big dif is, of course, that the Dragon is designed to be reusable, which is important if SpaceX wants to deliver crew and cargo to the ISS on a budget. The innovation nowadays is not on a strict cool-design model; pushing the envelope on thrifty economics is the most critical innovation necessary now, as NASA moves into its next era.

Artist's conception of the Dragon docking with the ISS. From Wikipedia.

Orbital Sciences and SpaceX are the two companies contracted by NASA to develop manned space vehicles to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. When the Space Shuttle program ends next year, the US will otherwise be renting space on Russian Soyuz missions in a gas, grass, or ass arrangement. NASA’s grass is indeed green, but you don’t smoke it; it costs NASA $20 mil to send each US-funded astronaut.

Several other private companies are developing options in the hopes of getting future NASA contracts, but at the moment NASA’s eggs are in two baskets, plus rented space on the Russian program.

Scheduled for a 9am launch, the Falcon launch was delayed until 11:43 Eastern Time (it had until 12:22pm ET to hit its launch window).

SpaceX’s CEO is Elon Musk, who founded PayPal. He told CNN his company could be sending cargo to the ISS next year, and take astronauts in 3 years. He means SpaceX, not PayPal, natch.

When it comes to this particular launch, I found NASA’s site about as helpful as one of my fellow San Franciscans giving a tourist directions to Coit Tower.

Mighta been a local outage, but as far as I could tell, the promised video coverage live on NASA-TV was actually a blurry image of Curly Joe from the Three Stooges re-enacting a brief scene from the movie Contact, sans audio.

The YouTubes have some hilarious footage of cameras shaking, but nothing of today’s launch. Hopefully later in the day, the virus will take hold and there’ll be footage of the launch itself.

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