SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches Dragon to orbit (photos)
New era of space flight
A new era of space flight roared to life today at 3:44:38 a.m. EDT, when SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket erupted from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The first commercial flight, an unmanned cargo ship, bound for the International Space Station marks a new era of space exploration.
Photo by: NASA
Falcon 9 just before launch
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft sits atop a Falcon 9 rocket on the SpaceX launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, moments before liftoff this morning. The journey, if successful, will make SpaceX the first commercial company to dock a spacecraft at the International Space Station.
Photo by: SpaceX
The crowd cheers
The crowd watching the launch in the early morning hours cheers as Falcon 9 lights up the sky.
Following the launch, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk said: "The vehicle’s first stage performed nominally before separating from the second stage. The second stage successfully delivered the Dragon spacecraft into its intended orbit. This marks the third consecutive successful Falcon 9 launch and the fifth straight launch success for SpaceX."
Now Dragon heads toward the International Space Station, with an expected rendezvous late this week. Before joining with the space outpost, Dragon will undergo a series of tests to ensure the craft is adequately prepared to berth with the station.
Photo by: SpaceX
Falcon 9 rocket at the launch pad
In the next few days, Dragon’s sensors and flight systems are subjected to a series of complicated tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the space station. These tests include maneuvers and systems checks in which the vehicle comes within 1.5 miles of the station. NASA will then decide if Dragon is allowed to attempt berthing with the station. If so, Dragon approaches, is captured by station’s robotic arm, and attached to the station, a feat that requires extreme precision.