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SpaceX Dragon  (Source: Vehibase.com)
It will be the first commercial company in history to dock at the ISS

NASA has announced that American space transport company SpaceX will embark on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS) in February 2012.

After retiring its Space Shuttle Program in summer 2011, NASA has had to purchase seats on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft in order to send American astronauts to the ISS. According to Lori Garver, NASA's deputy administrator, the cost per seat is expected to increase to $63 million by 2015 and the U.S. will be forced to pay the Russians $450 million per year in 2016 and beyond for every year that the U.S. delays its own commercial crew vehicle.

To remedy this issue, NASA is looking to California-based private commercial company SpaceX to send supplies to the ISS. NASA has set a date of February 7, 2012 for the SpaceX launch.

"SpaceX is excited to be the first commercial company in history to berth with the International Space Station," said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president. "This mission will mark a historic milestone in the future of spaceflight."

SpaceX will send its unmanned Dragon spacecraft to the ISS in the February launch. The spacecraft, which will not be carrying important cargo in case something goes wrong, will perform various check-out procedures to test its systems sensor operations about two miles before reaching the ISS. If all goes well, it will dock at the ISS and unload the cargo, then return home into the Pacific Ocean.

"SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station," said William Gerstenmaier of NASA. "We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory."

Sources: Tech2, Wired





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