Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Flying Dragon

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We of the Geek waited nervously at T-minus 13 minutes for what seemed like an eternity of comfortingly technical chatter this morning, hoping to see the SpaceX launch. Friendly talking heads startled us every now and then with status updates.

Falcon 9 is the second test flight of the Falcon launch vehicles (Falcon 1 achieved orbit on its fourth attempt in September of 2008), and the first test flight of a Dragon capsule, which we hope will be able to reach the International Space Station, with a crew of up-to-7 people, and/or various cargo. What's all the fuss about, you ask? You don't see the NASA logo anywhere, so what is this hardware taking up space at a Cape launch complex?

Falcon 9
This event marks the first time a commercial company is attempting to launch, orbit a crew-capable spacecraft, and "re-enter" that spacecraft from orbit.

At T-Minus 2:48, the major hitch of the day was a false telemetry reading on the ordinance interrupter, which is a part of the flight termination system. John Insprucker of the Falcon 9 team said they corrected the database on the ground computers, and declared everything was safe. Around 10:30am, chatter began again in earnest, with numerous people in mission control shouting GO!

If you aren't into the anticipation of launches, there is nothing I can say to convert you until you try it. I understand most people wouldn't sit around for hours staring at a launch pad -– because more often than not, you wind up deflated and disappointed because of an abrupt abort.

However, on the days when large launch windows allow time resets, additional tries… and then everything works out, the rush is magnificent!

15 Seconds After Liftoff
The launch was awesome!! Amazing to think that this was a private company that pulled this off!

Says SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, “This will be the first new American, human-capable spacecraft to travel to orbit and back since the Space Shuttle took flight three decades ago. The success of the NASA COTS program shows that it is possible to return to the fast pace of progress that took place during the Apollo era, but using only a tiny fraction of the resources.”

COTS is the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, a program begun in 2006 to attempt the construction of crafts able to reach the ISS, and it would appear SpaceX is well on its way. So exciting!

Dragon Spacecraft
The big questions surround the Dragon capsule now: Can it achieve orbit? Can it be operated remotely during orbit? Can its heat shield withstand re-entry and descent? Can it be recovered properly upon splashdown?

The flight coverage tanked around the +11:00 mark, but continued details about orbit, splashdown and recovery will be announced on their SpaceXer Twitter feed, Space X Facebook page and of course, the SpaceX main website.

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