SpaceX Could Make Tomorrow a Historic Day

Plans to launch first commercial capsule to supply the space station

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted May 18, 2012 8:20 AM CDT

(Newser) – If all goes well, tomorrow will be a landmark day in commercial space exploration, as SpaceX launches the first private supply run to the International Space Station. But that's a big if. "I think there's a significant chance the mission does not succeed," CEO Elon Musk tells the New York Times. NASA stresses that the launch, scheduled for 4:55am ET, is more about testing SpaceX's Dragon capsule than supplying the station—its thousand pounds of cargo consist mostly of low-priority items like food, clothes, and high school science projects.

The only science experiments aboard the ship will be student efforts, testing vital questions like whether wine will ferment faster in space. If the rocket does fail, it will be a first for SpaceX (read up on its two previous successes), though its flights have come slower than anticipated; SpaceX was supposed to reach the station by 2009. Yet its process is positively rushed compared to NASA's, NPR reports. NASA, haunted by past space disasters, puts projects through a battery of analysis. "To build a lower cost system, you need perhaps draw the line back," says one ex-NASA manager. "And that's what we're seeing with the commercial space people."

In this April 29, 2012 photo provided by SpaceX, a SpaceX Dragon capsule on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket is transported to a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
In this April 29, 2012 photo provided by SpaceX, a SpaceX Dragon capsule on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket is transported to a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla.   (AP Photo/SpaceX)
This graphic explains the SpaceX Dragon capsule's design
This graphic explains the SpaceX Dragon capsule's design   (Associated Press/NASA)
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