The test flight, which should include a fly-by and berthing with the station in the coming days, aims to show that private industry can restore US access to the ISS after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet last year. “There is a lot at stake here for SpaceX – something like $1.6bn contract with NASA. The shuttle programme ended last year. This is the future for NASA. This is the way America will stay in orbit.”
Our correspondent said the involvement of private companies would help the US government reduce the money spent on space exploration. But he added that “history won’t be made until that Dragon capsule actually rendezvous with the International Space Station, which won’t happen for another 72 hours and that’s perhaps the trickiest part of this entire operation”.
No humans are traveling aboard the Dragon, but six astronauts are already at the $100-billion space lab to help the capsule latch on, to unload supplies and then restock the capsule with cargo to take back to Earth.
The mission was delayed on Saturday due to a faulty engine valve in the rocket’s main engine, but was repaired the same day. California-based SpaceX, owned by billionaire Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, is the first of several US competitors to try sending spacecraft to the ISS with the goal of restoring US access to space for human travelers by 2015.