by Dr. Ken Kremer
Following the spectacular May 22 nighttime blastoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon commercial resupply capsule, the successful docking at the International Space Station (ISS) and the safe splashdown on May 31, human exploration of the cosmos embarked on a radical new course that will never be the same again.
The long awaited liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 3:44 a.m. lit up the Florida Space Coast for miles around as it roared off Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on a history making mission as the first private spaceship bound for the International Space Station (ISS). I witnessed the spectacular predawn launch as a member of the press from an elevation of 525 feet on the roof of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), where all the Space Shuttle missions and Apollo moon landing flights were prepared for blastoff. In a split second the page was turned to open a new era in humankind’s exploration and exploitation of space.
Prior to blastoff I toured the SpaceX launch pad for a close-up look and photo shoot of the Falcon 9/Dragon duo poised for liftoff from Space Launch Complex- 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The on time Falcon 9 blastoff came three days after the first launch attempt was aborted at T Minus 0 when a computer automatically shutdown the already firing engines as it detected a high chamber pressure in one of the nine first stage engines.
Dragon is the world’s first commercial spacecraft whose purpose is to carry supplies to and from the ISS and partially replace the cargo capabilities previously performed by NASA’s now retired fleet of space shuttle orbiters. Dragon was designed, developed and built by Hawthorne, Calif., based SpaceX Corporation, founded in 2002 by CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.Three days after liftoff, Dragon became the first private spacecraft to rendezvous and dock with the ISS on May 25. Astronauts Don Pettit of NASA and Andrea Kuipers of ESA deftly berthed Dragon at an open Earth-facing port on the Harmony module after being dramatically captured by the astronauts using the station’s 58 foot long robotic arm in a landmark event in space history as the Dragon and the ISS were passing about 251 miles above Earth.
The astronauts opened the hatch and ‘Entered the Dragon’ for the first time a day later on May 26 and then proceeded to unload the nearly 1100 pounds of stowed cargo and refill it with more than 1300 pounds of science samples and trash for the return trip to Earth. With the successful splashdown all objectives of the historic test flight were fully achieved. The first operational Dragon cargo mission could launch as early as September 2012.
Astronomy Outreach by Ken Kremer
Rittenhouse Astronomical Society (RAS) at the Franklin Institute:Philadelphia, PA, June 13, Wed, 7 PM. “Curiosity Mars landing, DAWN at Asteroid Vesta & GRAIL Lunar Orbiters”
Adirondack Public Observatory – Adirondack State Park: Tupper Lake,NY, July 13 & 14.
“8 Years of Mars Rovers & Search for Life- Mars & Vesta in 3 D”.
Ken Kremer: Spaceflight magazine & Universe Today
Ken has a selection of his Shuttle photos and Mars mosaics for sale as postcards and frameable prints.