For the first time since the cancellation of NASA’s space shuttle program, an American resupply capsule is docking with the International Space Station (ISS), bringing needed supplies. The historic mission marks a "first" in the space agency’s history, with NASA relying on a private company — SpaceX — to fulfill a role once filled by agency-owned spacecraft.
When the Dragon capsule docks with the ISS on Wednesday, it will mark the second time that one of the SpaceX-owned craft has docked with the space station. A "dry run" mission in May of this year demonstrated that the Dragon capsule was capable of accomplishing the role for which NASA needed it to fulfill: restoring an American capacity to resupply the ISS, which the agency was primarily responsible for constructing in Earth orbit. Overcoming the skepticism of critics of privately owned space ventures, SpaceX demonstrated it was capable of taking the place of the mothballed space shuttle fleet — at least when it comes to helping to keep the ISS functioning. Aside from the governmental space programs of the United States, Russia, Japan, and the European Union, only SpaceX has sent a capsule to the ISS.
The latest mission began with the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket launching a Dragon module with 1,000 pounds of supplies on its way to the ISS. According to press reports, the resupply mission is the first of 12 that NASA has contracted with SpaceX at a cost of $1.6 billion — a cost vastly less than a comparable number of missions would have required using the old shuttle fleet. According to an article at Boston.com, the Dragon capsule is unique among the space craft currently being used for resupply missions because it has the capacity to return cargo to Earth from the station:
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