Commercial space firm SpaceX may be just days away from going where no private company has gone before: the International Space Station. The company is preparing to send its unmanned Dragon capsule on a mission to supply the ISS with 1,100 pounds of food, water, and other cargo. The launch, which could happen as soon as Monday, marks the next step in space strategy for the US after the retirement of the shuttle fleet, the Washington Post notes. NASA aims to turn ISS missions into low-cost, largely private ventures, leaving the agency free to plan missions further afield.
SpaceX, one of several companies competing for ISS missions, has a contract with NASA to fly 12 missions to the station, although the company stresses that the upcoming launch is a test flight and its Dragon capsule may not be able to successfully dock with the ISS. “It’s proving to be harder and more complicated and more expensive than [SpaceX founder] Elon Musk anticipated,” an analyst at the Spaceport Research and Policy Institute says. “But it’s still more efficient than NASA." Musk himself says that one of his goals is to make the US the top nation for space launches again, and it would be "historically significant if Dragon were to become the first commercial spacecraft to conduct a docking."