SpaceX Dragon blazes a new path

2012-05-31 19:50

Washington - US company SpaceX's cargo vessel on Thursday splash-landed in the Pacific Ocean, capping a successful mission to the International Space Station and blazing a new path for private spaceflight.

"Splashdown successful!!" South African born SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said in a message on the microblogging site Twitter after the unmanned capsule landed in the waters off the Mexican coast at 11:42 Eastern time (15:42 GMT).

Recovery vessels were headed toward the vessel, which drifted down with the aid of three massive red and white parachutes near its target of 900km off Baja, California, Nasa said.

"Splashdown! SpaceX Dragon capsule safely down in Pacific Ocean - ending first mission by a commercial company to resupply the ISS," Nasa said on Twitter.

The safe return of the vessel followed a near flawless mission to deliver cargo to the $100bn orbiting outpost, marking the first time a commercial outfit has sent its own capsule there and back.

Nasa and US leaders have applauded the mission as a pioneering first step in the future of spaceflight, opening the path for private companies to take cargo and someday astronauts to the ISS.

The end of the three-decade US space shuttle programme in 2011 left the United States without a means to reach space on its own, and has forced the world's astronauts to rely on Russia for rides to the ISS and back to Earth.

Japan and Europe also have cargo ships that can reach the space lab but cannot return cargo intact. SpaceX's cargo ship is larger than Russia's Soyuz capsules and is capable of bringing back more gear.


The white Dragon capsule stands 4.4m high and is 3.66m in diameter. It could carry as much as 3 310kg, split between pressurised cargo in the capsule and unpressurised cargo in the trunk.

SpaceX, owned by billionaire internet entrepreneur and Pretoria Boys High matriculant Musk, says it aims to begin taking people to the space station by 2015.

SpaceX and its competitor Orbital Sciences Corporation, both of which have received funding from Nasa, will probably become the chief cargo servicers of the space station, which is set to remain operational until 2020, Nasa has said.

SpaceX has a $1.6bn contract with Nasa to supply the station over the coming years, and Orbital Sciences has a $1.9bn contract to do the same. Orbital's first test flight is scheduled for later this year.

The cargo ship launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on May 22 with 521kg of gear for the space lab, including food, supplies, computers, utilities and science experiments and is returning a 660kg load to Earth.

After it is recovered in the ocean, the Dragon will then be transported to Texas so that its cargo can be returned to Nasa.

A Nasa press conference is scheduled for 18:00 GMT to discuss more details on the mission.

  • Eidel - 2012-05-31 20:49

    Making me feel proud to be a south African. Dr. Jakob van Zyl Namibian born is also a key engineer at NASA

      Eidel - 2012-06-02 13:31

      Jy is reg sy bynaam is Japie. Het die voorreg gehad om hul troue by te woon in Stellenbosch. Kalfie is my oorlede swaar Theuns se broers kind

      Eidel - 2012-06-02 13:33

      Browse Resolution High Resolution Dr. Jakob van Zyl is the associate director of Project Formulation and Strategy and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Formerly, he was the director for JPL's Astronomy and Physics Directorate. Van Zyl received an honors bachelor's degree cum laude in electronics engineering from the University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa. He received both his master's and his doctorate in electrical engineering from Caltech. Van Zyl joined JPL in 1986 and held positions of increasing responsibility in the synthetic aperture radar program. In addition, he managed the Radar Science and Engineering Section, the Earth Science Flight Missions and Experiments Office, and the Focused Physical Oceanography and Solid Earth Program Office. He was appointed deputy director for the Astronomy and Physics Directorate in 2002. He has been an adjunct faculty member in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, University of Southern California, where he taught the class "Remote Sensing Systems from Space" from 1997 to 2001. Since 2002, he has been teaching the class "Physics and Techniques of Remote Sensing" at Caltech.

  • arthur.hugh - 2012-06-01 02:01

    Talented guy! Some great SA people out there, pity more locals don't notice them.

      zaaristotle - 2012-06-01 08:50

      You only get noticed for your global accomplishments if you are some empty headed floozy from Benoni. If you are someone who has more than one brain cell and uses them for the betterment and progress of mankind (and there are several, not just Elon), then you are conveniently not noticed and forgotten.

      Mxolisi - 2012-06-01 13:04

      I think if the media would put positive stuff like this on the front page many people will appreciate and will probably drive more people to get better education and better themselves. The media loves putting bad stuff on the front page. It looks like bad news sell.

  • Piet - 2012-06-01 09:28

    This is real news. Great achievement by one of SA's greatest exports. The press and the ANC should rather celebrate this than stuff around with a silly painting showing a silly person's silly bits.

  • Nicorien Le Roux - 2012-06-02 14:54

    En ek het die voorreg gehad om saam met sy Pa en Ma te werk in die Kaokoveld. Oom Ben en Tannie Babes van Zyl. Wonderlike wonderlike mense.

  • Chris Badtrekkie - 2014-08-18 18:23

    great job spacex

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