October 08, 2012
An unmanned, privately owned Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Oct. 7 on a mission to restore a U.S. supply line to the International Space Station after the retirement of the space shuttle.
Powered by nine oxygen and kerosene-burning engines, the 157-foot (48-meter) tall rocket, built by Space Exploration Technologies, lifted off from its seaside launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT (0035 GMT Monday).
“This was a critical event for NASA and the nation tonight,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Just over a year after the retirement of the space shuttle, we have returned space station cargo-resupply missions to U.S. soil.”
The Falcon booster, flying for the fourth time, streaked through balmy, partly cloudy skies as it headed east over the Atlantic Ocean toward the station’s orbit, some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
Despite a problem with one engine during the 10-minute climb to orbit, the capsule was delivered exactly where it was intended to go, company president Gwynne Shotwell told reporters.
“Falcon 9 was designed to lose engines and still make missions, so it did what it was supposed to do,” Shotwell said. “We will learn from our flights and continue to improve the vehicle.”
The capsule is scheduled to reach the $100-billion space station - a project of 15 nations - on Wednesday.
The company, also known as SpaceX, made a successful practice run to the station in May, clearing the way for it to begin working off a $1.6 billion, 12-flight contract to deliver cargo for NASA.
The Dragon cargo capsule carries about 882 pounds (400 kg) of food, clothing, science experiments and supplies for the station. The gear includes a freezer to transport medical samples and a rare treat for the station crew - chocolate vanilla swirl ice cream.