We all know about NASA and what the United States space program is, what they do and their explorations and discoveries. What we also know are the running jokes about misappropriation of funds. The government agency is known for their wasting of money.
They have spent upwards of $20B on projects that have been cancelled and are made fun of by comedians for spending $600 on screwdrivers. That is a typical government agency they say.
Then along comes a guy and eventually a group that thinks it could be done better on the private sector, meet SpaceX. This company was founded by Paypal entrepreneur Elon Musk and his goal was to reduce the terrible expense associated with space travel. In the company’s various testing and experiments they took space travel and made it something that a private sector business was able to do. They broke many records along the way and have a list of firsts under their belt, the first privately funded rocket to reach orbit, the first privately funded company to launch and recover spacecraft, sending a satellite into orbit and reaching the international space station or ISS.
In 2006 NASA granted a contract with the company (another first) to develop a cost effect way to transport cargo to the ISS and act as a supplier. SpaceX developed a ship just for this purpose called the Dragon. On April 18th 2014 Dragon launched, only 10 minutes after launch was in orbit with the ISS as the destination target. Two minutes later the solar array deployed and Dragon was her way. Then on April 22nd Dragon had arrived. Berthing with the ISS while orbiting 260 miles over top of Brazil SpaceX using Dragon made its biggest delivery to date to the ISS, bringing with it over 5,000 pounds of cargo and breaking yet another record. Dragon delivered critical space station equipment as well as delivering more 150 scientific experiments. What did they deliver?
The official NASA website gave many details about the payload that SpaceX delivered:
They brought with them vehicle hardware, spacewalking equipment and supplies for the crew. The scientific payloads on Dragon include investigations into efficient plant growth in space, human immune system function in microgravity, Earth observation, and a demonstration of laser optics communication. Also being delivered is a set of high-tech legs for Robonaut 2, which will provide the humanoid robot torso already aboard the orbiting laboratory the mobility it needs to help with regular and repetitive tasks inside the space station. Dragon also is delivering a second set of investigations sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the portion of the space station that is designated a U.S. National Laboratory. The investigations include research into plant biology and protein crystal growth, a field of study experts believe may lead to beneficial advancements in drug development through protein mapping.
So how was SpaceX able to able pull this off? Well Dragon had an upgrade this trip. SpaceX invested in some new avionic s equipment which allowed a 400% increase in cargo aboard Dragon. Speaking of firsts this is yet another, Dragon is the first spaceship that is capable of actually returning large amounts of cargo to earth. NASA has ways to get things into orbit, but really there too little space to bringing stuff back to earth, until Dragon.
Dragon will need to stay connected to the ISS for one month to give the astronauts time to unload the cargo and supplies. Once unloaded they will then fill the cargo bays of Dragon with research documents, educational experiments and space station hardware to send back to earth’s surface. Splashdown and recovery is scheduled for May 18, 2014 off the Southern coast of California.