Score one for corporate America. This morning at 8:56am the SpaceX Dragon, a privately owned space module, became the first of its kind to dock with the International Space Station. This is the first step in NASA's latest strategy (due to budget cuts) that will allow private companies to handle orbital and "routine" operations. It is NASA's goal to focus on larger projects, such as Mars exploration, while the private sector focuses on bringing supplies to and from the station without having to rely on the Russian Soyuz rocket.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the head of SpaceX — PayPal creator Elon Musk — is very pleased with this morning's historical event. He even went so far as to project that they will be able to transport astronauts within the next three or four years. SpaceX, which is short for Space Explorations Technologies Corp., is the first among several private companies that are trying to buy their way into the space race since the final launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis last July.
When the Falcon 9 rocket was launched on Tuesday, it carried not only supplies for the crew of the ISS, but the ashes of over three hundred people — including Star Trek's James Doohan (he played "Scotty" on the original series). The intention is to release the capsule into space where it will eventually vaporize.
If all goes well the Dragon will remain docked in orbit until next Thursday when it will be released and return to earth carrying experiments from the station.