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First private craft to dock at the ISS, SpaceX’s Dragon is getting close to graduating from cargo to ferrying astronauts


Privately funded efforts to go to space and reach the nearest celestial bodies are currently under way. And rather than shun it to continue promoting government-funded space programs, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has decided to embrace it.

NASA has spent much of the last few years working quite closely with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the most famous privately funded space exploration company, and one of their biggest milestones together has been to allow the first private spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon, to dock at the International Space Station (ISS).

It took a long way for SpaceX and its Dragon spacecraft to get to that point, and NASA had to do a lot of reconfiguration from its end as well. In a recently published piece on Space.com, Elizabeth Howell details the journey that the two companies had to take in order to arrive at pretty much the same page as far as space exploration is concerned. And judging by the story so far, it looks like the journey will go on for the foreseeable future.

SpaceX’s job with the Dragon spacecraft is mainly to ferry cargo from Earth to the ISS, and vice versa. But in the background, the company is also planning to put astronauts on the Dragon and possible use it to send them to either the ISS or even places beyond. From the day it made its first cargo demonstration flight to the ISS in May 2012, the Dragon has shown a lot of promise. Since then, SpaceX has been trying to perfect their methods and have had a lot of success – as well as a few failures – along the way.

What’s interesting to note is that SpaceX has received funding from NASA itself to continue its projects, and to continue to offer its help to the space agency in terms of research and development. It is said that in 2014 alone, the company received at least $2.6 billion from the space agency to continue working on the latest phase of what is called the Commercial Crew Program. This program is meant to fly astronauts on American-made spacecraft, which Dragon is one of. They haven’t green-lit a single launch yet, but they plan to hold the first test flight for it some time in late 2018.

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To SpaceX’s credit, they have already decided on an official design for the spacecraft that’s fit for the Commercial Crew Program’s needs. It’s just that the company is meticulously trying to ensure the utmost safety of all the future astronauts that will be using it by undergoing many different safety tests.

The human-rated version of the Dragon spacecraft, which the company is said to be working on, can hold up to seven astronauts in it, compared to just three on the current Soyuz spacecraft. This is a good improvement and is expected to help both SpaceX and NASA to increase the number of people on the standard space-faring crew from just six individuals.

It should be noted that Dragon itself will probably not make it past the ISS, as SpaceX intends to use more improved versions that are much more suited to interplanetary travel for certain future missions. The company is already hard at work on that. And if they continue to get funding and succeed in all their tests, they will likely be relevant in the space race for years to come.

Learn about other developing spacecraft tech at Space.news.

Sources include:

Space.com

SpaceX.com

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