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In the wee hours of Tuesday May 22nd, NASA scientists counted down the launch of SpaceX Dragon, the world's first privately built spacecraft. Given the number of things that could have gone wrong, even the experts were not sure the mission would be a success. However, everything worked like a charm and the Dragon re-entered earth on Thursday morning with a big splash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 500 miles off the coast of Baja California, Mexico.
The spacecraft, which contained 1,400 pounds of old space equipment and a few science experiments was quickly retrieved by a fleet of ships, pulled aboard a barge, and towed to Los Angeles, California. Along the way, SpaceX employees began off-loading the cargo so that the company can demonstrate to NASA their quick turnaround delivery - Something that will be crucial in the upcoming missions when the capsules will be returning with time sensitive scientific experiments. Once the history-making capsule is emptied, it will be taken on an exhibition tour, for everyone to admire.
The successful return of Dragon is the culmination of a nine-day mission that included a three-day trip to the International Space Station, a five day stay there and a rapid six-hour journey back - Everything, went flawlessly.
Though the company has proved it can successfully accomplish missions and gained NASA's trust for future cargo trips, they are by no means resting on their laurels. Not only are they getting ready for the next unmanned mission in September, but also, beginning work on the next generation SpaceX Dragon that will not land in water, but on firm ground using propulsion thrusters. The company anticipates that the new version will be ready for testing later this year.
SpaceX is not the only company vying for the lucrative Space business. Rival Orbital Sciences Corp. is planning to test its first unmanned flight at the end of the year. The success of commercial spacecraft heralds a new era of space exploration - One that will not only enable astronauts to get to Mars, but thanks to Space tourism also, allow ordinary people to be able reach frontiers they would have never been able to otherwise.
Resources: news.yahoo.com, nola.com