The plan is for the company's unmanned Dragon Spacecraft to soar into space on Saturday morning en route to the International Space Station - the first time a private company has tried to rendezvous with the orbiting outpost. Hawthorne-based SpaceX is the work of entrepreneur Elon Musk, who has a lot riding on the success of this first real mission into space. So does the entire private space business, which is looking to take over much of what government space agencies have done up to now. From the Guardian:
The Falcon 9 rocket has flown only twice before, successfully reaching orbit on both occasions. An earlier SpaceX rocket, Falcon-1, failed to reach orbit on its first three test flights, though the company has had no failures since. "We have to allow for the fact that this is an extremely complex and tough flight. It's a test flight, not a standard milk run," said Alan Stern, a US aerospace consultant and former associate administrator in charge of science at Nasa. "Elon Musk and SpaceX have a tremendous track record, and when Falcon 1 failed, they stuck with it and made it work. They will have a failure again, because everyone does, but a test flight is a learning experience. Regardless of how successful the flight is, whether it's complete or partial, it's a big step forward. This is a sea change."
NASA has been working with companies to make sure that vision of the future will happen. It has a cargo delivery contract with SpaceX worth $1.6 billion. The space agency has also been handing out plenty of advice. Musk says so far, their collaboration has worked well: "No relationship is perfect, certainly. But on balance, it's really good." The relationship involves daily calls and emails between people who live in two different worlds. For example, the workforce at NASA is generally older. Many top managers cherish their childhood memories of watching the Apollo astronauts on TV. Not so at SpaceX, where Musk says the average age is around 30. "At age 40, I'm relatively old," says Musk, who notes that he was born after the moon landing.
From USA Today:
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft faces a daunting series of systems tests and complicated maneuvers -- something similar to an ultra-serious shakedown cruise for a new-generation nuclear-powered submarine -- before it will be given the green light to berth at the International Space Station. The bar is raised sky-high, and for SpaceX, the idea is to show the U.S. and its 15 international partners that the Dragon poses no threat to the station or the six people living and working aboard it. SpaceX must prove the Dragon won't crash into the complex, destroying the outpost and killing all aboard.