May 18th, 2012
10:22 AM ET

SpaceX Dragon to launch Saturday

Elon Musk has a lot on his mind these days. “I’m simultaneously excited and nervous,” says the CEO and founder of commercial rocket company SpaceX.

If all goes as planned, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule on top will lift off from Cape Canaveral on Saturday on a mission never before attempted by a private rocket company.

From the moment the engines ignite, there will be high drama, quite literally.

“We’ve done everything we possibly can think of to ensure the success of this mission. Despite that there’s still significant risk,” Musk says.

Once in orbit, the Dragon spacecraft will head for a rendezvous with the International Space Station. After a series of systems checks and maneuvers, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit will use the station’s robotic arm to reach out, grab Dragon and berth it to the station.

“Dragon is doing this all autonomously, so there’s a lot of intelligence on board,” Musk says. “It’s not as though there’s somebody on Dragon with a joystick who’s maneuvering the craft as there would have been in say the Apollo era.”

Musk, a billionaire who co-founded PayPal, readily admits he’s driven. But why get involved in the business of rockets? He already owns Tesla, an up-and-coming electric car company. “I want to be involved in things or help make things happen that have a significant positive effect on the future of the world,” he says.

Musk believes commercial companies will be a huge part of the future of space travel and will eventually take people to Mars. “I think humanity becoming a multi-planet species is one of the most important things we could possibly accomplish, and we should try to do that,” he says.

The immediate challenge of getting his Dragon spacecraft to the ISS is a small first step, but one with profound implications. NASA with its limited budget decided to turn over to commercial companies the job of ferrying cargo and astronauts to the station. NASA could then concentrate its money and efforts on developing a new, big rocket and spacecraft to take humans to Mars.

There are several commercial companies designing and building vehicles for the space station mission including, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, Orbital and Boeing. But SpaceX is the first ready to try.

Musk has no illusions. A lot can go wrong. When Dragon first gets to the station it will make a wide loop around the ISS. “If something doesn’t look right during that initial loop then we’ll have to pause, retreat Dragon to a safe distance, do some analysis and figure out if we can sort out the problem and go for a docking,” he says.

Because you can’t simulate zero gravity on earth, many of the calculations are done by computer. “A lot of what we’ve done is based on simulations. Now if there’s an error in our simulations, unfortunately we’ll discover that in orbit,” Musk says.

With degrees in both business and physics, Musk admits he’s hands on. During the mission he’ll be in the SpaceX control room in Hawthorne, California, right beside his team. He says he knows every inch of the spacecraft. As the head man Musk says any decision to proceed or abort the mission rests with him. “The way it works is if a problem occurs we kind of get together as a team, figure out what the right decision is. Ultimately, I bear responsibility for the decision, so I need to make the decision.”

If Dragon is successful it won’t arrive at the station empty handed. The spacecraft is carrying about 1,100 pounds of supplies from meals to a laptop and batteries. He’s not sure, but Musk says there may be some underwear packed in there, too.

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space
soundoff (170 Responses)
  1. seo

    Thanks for the blog post.Truly looking forward to read more. Great. seo

    April 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  2. Richard D.

    This posses a scary side. THe country giving all its technology secrets so a private one can surpass the US gov in less than five years.

    Why can't the rocket go astray and crash on another country and we then have to shell out or be at war with that country. Why can't space X if it advances ahead of NASA be a world power onto itself.

    The SPACE x does not ignite a sense of national pride , but more of one where one company moves ahead and side steps the other by virtue of the help it receives unfairly by orders and commands from the Obama chief executive of the US - ordering the passing and handing over of high tech US government secrets and funding the company with contracts where it is the only bidder and pay what ever they want.

    May 22, 2012 at 6:51 am |
  3. Alexandra

    It's a big risk, at least someone is making a feable attempt at it. It's better than being "grounded.' Throwing a large scale manned space program to the scrap pile is not an engineering principle.

    May 20, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  4. ZedWrecker

    I just love the fact the program was named by a 12 year old boy. SpaceX Dragon. Is it covered in flame decalls too?

    May 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  5. Himmat

    i have a question....why the heck is it called "The SpaceX Dragon!!!!!!"? thats probably why it failed to take off. just kidding

    May 20, 2012 at 5:46 am |
  6. sub

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    May 19, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  7. SpaceFan

    Launch scrubbed and but will be rescheduled:

    May 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  8. Ryan

    Elon Musk, chief executive officer of SpaceX and founder of PayPal, addressed a National Press Club luncheon on September 29, 2011. He spoke about the future of human spaceflight in advance of his company's planned Nov. 30 flight to the International Space Station, the first private mission to ISS for NASA.

    May 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  9. Jimi

    NASA reports the rocket wasn't built by the North Koreans so it should be okay...

    May 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • anon

      Well, the rocket won't be glorious, but at least it won't explode in the atmosphere.

      May 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
      • Dave

        LOL, couldnt even get it off the ground!

        May 19, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  10. Joel

    Where is the report button? This isn't germane. Oh, and by the way, false flag operations are considered dirty.

    May 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Sophia Dengo

      Hi Joel,

      The blogs are still missing their report buttons, but we are moderating. I've removed the post. Thanks for reading!

      Sophia Dengo,

      May 18, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  11. larry5

    If Obama gets re-elected it's projects like this that will be our only hope that is if Obama does not somehow stop them.

    May 18, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Darren

      Dude, I am a Conservative – but you Tea Baggers need to just back the Truck up a bit. Come off the right hand ledge. Obama does not have anything to do with Space X –

      I do predict that if \ when he is re-elected there is a hard rain that is going to fall. the US is so polarized its like Matter and Anti-Matter – only a matter of time before there is another civil war

      Use your head

      May 18, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
      • jeff

        Obama killed NASA. Obama will be seen as the worst president in history. Without NASA America is no better than any other country. Obama killed America.

        May 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
      • LostInSpace

        It's because of Obama gutting NASA budget that this is happening in the first place. And NASA has given SpaceX $400-$500M in contracts. So yeah, Obama has a lot to do with SpaceX, even if only indirectly.

        May 18, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
      • thermion7

        High $ funding for NASA was going to be in jeopardy no matter what... they need to concentrate their efforts on space science... not trucking parts and rations into low earth orbit. So, with a little monetary help... SpaceX agrees to be the orbital truck driver. I personally think its great.

        May 18, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
      • thermion7

        I'm Liberal and I agree with Darren. Not every decision on either side of the aisle is dooming the country. Not everything has to be on the extreme fringes of liberalism and conservatism... it isnt us or them, there is lots of room for shades of grey

        May 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
      • jimbo0117

        Guys, the White House only presents budget proposals. In the end it is Congress that approves them. Let's face it, the continual decline of NASA started a long time ago, there budgets have been continually reduced since the 70's by both Republican and Democratic administrations. On top of that Congress' lead by both parties have approved these budget reductions – and often reduced them more!

        May 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
      • Jeff

        It was Bush that canceled the shuttle. There budget was not even cut. What is killing NASA is they have lost their way. They are suppose to be doing basic research in support of American industry but they have turned into a high tech workfare program.

        May 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  12. seriously

    If that laptop comes pre-loaded with Diablo 3 on it. that's a win for those astro/cosmonauts

    May 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  13. Dave

    I am not 100% comfortable with the commercialization of space technology ala Space X etc.

    For one thing, orbital vehicle = ICBM. If Elan can put a cargo package on the space station, he can put a nuke sized payload pretty much anywhere on the planet. Some countries, like NK, have nukes, but no good means to deliver them. Elan Musk might be a straight up guy that would never allow his potentially dangerous technology to fall into the wrong hands, but what about the next guy? or the 15th guy? Or the 100th?

    I am a capitalist only because no one has presented a better system to me. Everything else has ended in dismal failure. But capitalism has it's flaws, one of the paramount being the out and out _EVIL_ that comes with unchecked corporate greed.

    Musk might not, but 5 years from now, 20? 50? Some CEO, looking no further than own uncontrollable greed will sell an ICBM to North Korea... or to Pakistan... or to terrorists... or a drug lord... or whomever has large bags of good ol' money.

    Our government has plenty of flaws and has done it's own evil, but in my estimation, it pales compared to the evil acts committed by major corporations on a daily basis.

    I have no real problem with Space X, Musk or any of this per se... but this will end badly eventually. That is the nature of corporate greed.

    May 18, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Brett

      And just where would he get a nuke that he could integrate on a Falcon 9? If countries like the DPRK and Iran haven't been to develop and launch one, how's he supposed to, especially given all the Government oversight he gets with Falcon 9 and Dragon?

      May 18, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
      • jorgath

        Brett, I think Dave's point is not that Elan's going to be launching nukes all over the place. I think he's afraid that the Falcon 9 or something similar is going to end up in the hands of someone who has warheads but no effective missiles, like North Korea.

        May 18, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Brett are saying that corporate greed will lead to a nuclear attack of some sorts?

      May 18, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • thermion7

      Nuclear Power Plants are operated by companies for the most part. Airlines are operated by companies. Lockheed/Martin makes the Trident Missle. North American Aircraft, Boeing, Newport News Shipbuilding all have the capability to "make" technology... They have never given the bad guys Nuke fuel... Bombers or ICBMs before...

      May 18, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
      • mema

        True these are all corporate controlled companies. However they are highly regulated and controlled by the government. They must follow these reguation to the t or risk a force shut down resulting in millions/billions in lost profits. I know several people that work in these professions and was told that not only must they folllow regulation they (Government) have offices on site! Didnt the government recently discover Kodak had uranium in thier facility?!

        May 19, 2012 at 2:55 am |
    • Doug

      They'll probably use the defense contractor model for this work. ie, security clearances and such. But I definitely see your point...

      May 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • strider64

      These guys have to have high security clearance even to attempt to launch rockets in the first place, there is no way his "technology" to launch a rocket in orbit is going to fall into the wrong hands.

      May 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  14. NN

    Hopefully, Elon will not leave for Singapore like Eduardo did...

    May 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • thermion7

      What is the connection? That they are both rich?

      May 18, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
      • NN

        both are not US born as well... but I actually wanted to rather emphasize the differences, as of today...

        May 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  15. Fritz

    I'm giving it a 50-50 shot at total success. 70-30 for partial success (arriving near the space station but unable to dock). But I will have my fingers crossed at launch time. Good luck Elon.

    May 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  16. Obama 2012

    Obama 2012

    May 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Enik Sleestak

      ^^ FAIL

      May 18, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • it's so easy


      May 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  17. Some Dude

    Good luck, SpaceX! May it be a journey free of incident!

    May 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Denisse

      Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long as I pridove credit and sources back to your webpage? My blog site is in the very same niche as yours and my visitors would really benefit from some of the information you pridove here. Please let me know if this ok with you. Regards!

      June 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  18. Doug

    I pulled this from another webpage, but if the quote below is true, then its just the first step in justifying why the space industry is moving towards private enterprises. One other note...a lot of sattelites are up in space, and a lot of those are private...wouldnt it be great if our engineers at NASA could spend their time trying to get a payload to Mars as opposed to a cable or wireless carrier sattelite into space? Im exaggerating, but the general point is there.

    Musk explained, “Our Dragon spacecraft is capable of carrying the same number of astronauts as the Space Shuttle at one tenth of the cost. It will also be much safer due to technological improvements such as a launch escape system, being automatically stable on reentry, and having a far more robust heat shield.”

    May 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • paul

      And having the benefit of 40 years of technological advances that the Shuttle pioneered.

      May 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
      • Doug

        Does it say anywhere that they started from scratch? If you use that thinking, they technically are also using the advancements of countless others. Whats the cause of your comment? If its to justify the need for NASA, i believe that i stated that in the first portion about letting the engineers move on to less commercial endeavours and get back to exploring/researching space.

        May 18, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  19. Samuel R. Preston, III

    My cousin Benny is the pilot of this craft – we are immensely proud of him. Good luck, Benny!

    May 18, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Reader

      The article says the space vehicle is autonomous. What exactly is your cousin "piloting?"

      May 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
      • Bob

        His "joystick".

        May 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
      • Tars Tarkas

        The article also says that the vehicle is remotely piloted. A human actually has control here, and a lot is riding on his skill.

        May 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
      • Bam

        Um, no. It is fully automated.

        May 18, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
      • King

        "Dragon is doing this all autonomously, so there’s a lot of intelligence on board,” Musk says.

        Where in that does it say there is a pilot on the gorund? I guess Benny is an imaginary friend.

        May 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Rico Suave

      Benny........Benny.......Benny....Benny and the Jets...

      May 18, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  20. EvolveNow

    God's speed to SpaceX, the Dragon capsule, those waiting for the supplies on the International Space Station and all the other companies hoping to soon complete the same journey. Safe flight to you all.

    May 18, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  21. SPQR

    So who is paying for this ?

    May 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Elon Musk.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
      • Jason

        How very naive of you....Elon? Really? Gosh – wonder why he just received that 100million contract with NASA.....c''s pure greed. We've gone from real science to billionaires promoting their own adventures....nice going guys!

        May 18, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
      • thermion7

        Jason. To make space as an industry more viable, we need to stop making it a govt. game and make it a commercial venture. It's an amazingly expensive and fairly risky investment, so yes only the wealthiest can make a serious bid for this new endeavor, and yes the government has put some money behind this too... and hopefully in the long run it will pay dividends. Greedy, for profit... yes, that is the point, but dont paint SpaceX to be the bad guy here. In 1881 the Southern Pacific Railroad made the transcontinental railroad with the help of the Federal Govt. with the hope of providing a needed service, for profit.

        May 18, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
      • BThorn

        Jason... the old, sad joke in the space community is, "Question: How do you make a small fortune in the Space Industry? Answer: Start with a large fortune." If Mr. Musk just wanted to make money, there are far safer ways he could have done so.

        May 18, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
      • paul

        Jason, how very ignorant of you. NASA just paid for the launch service, not the rocket. Space-X developed this rocket from their earlier commercial ventures on mostly Musk's dime.

        May 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Science

      And you think it only costs 100 million to construct that aircraft and research it? A new jet fighter costs billions. How naive of YOU. The real money comes from paying customers who want to partake in space travel and a big NASA contract once the vehicle shows it can deliver its payload.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Scott

      NASA proided a couple hundred million, but SpaceX has spent a billion dollars of its own cash to finance the project.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • nathan

      It's partly financed by SpaceX and NASA under the COTS program. COTS stands for Components Off The Shelf I believe. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences both have contracts but SpaceX is sooo far ahead on this I don't see Orbital Sciences catching up. SpaceX is already training astronauts on the human version of the Dragon Capsule

      May 18, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
      • Roger

        (C)ommercially-available (O)ff-(T)he-(S)helf.

        May 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
      • dcoaster

        COTS = Commercial Orbital Transportation Services

        May 18, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
      • Old Soldier

        COTS: Commercial, Off The Shelf. An acquisition term for any device, tool, etc the government (or an industrial user) can purchase "off the shelf". Doesn't require RDTE (Research Development Test and Evaluation). Reduces acquisition costs and gains benefit from using an item sold/used large scale throughout industry; large scale production includes dependability knowledge and experienced production lines (tools, equipment, worker expertise, etc).

        May 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
      • Sciguy73

        This is why the Govt shouldn't re-use well known acronyms. COTS in this case is not commercial-off-the-shelf. It is Commercial Orbital Transportation Services. Falcon and Dragon weren't exactly "off-the-shelf".

        May 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  22. MightyMo

    I work here on Vandenberg in the missile business and SpaceX is in the very early stages of establishing a launch presence. I think the vision and originality in their concepts is remarkable, all driven by the need to cut cost and increase reliability and reuse. Even if their mission fails, I think the ideas that they have provided will be in space programs for a long time. I wish them the best of luck!

    May 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      I know one of the engineers that works out in Hawthorne. Every time we chat, the conversation is through the roof with excitement!

      May 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  23. Bill

    I don't mean to disparage the excellent work SpaceX's team has done, but let's all recognize they had significant Government help, both financial and technical, to get where they are. The idea that this (or any other space endeavor) is really solely "commercial" is a fallacy. First of all, NASA gave SpaceX a contract for nearly $300 Million to develop the Dragon capsule. They didn't do it without significant Government investment. Secondly, SpaceX was able to draw upon THOUSANDS of U.S. Government studies, experiments, and tests dating back to the Apollo program which made it SIGNIFICANTLY easier for SpaceX to develop the Dragon spacecraft. These include NASA's development of capsule shapes and heat shield technologies, reentry mathematics and methods, orbital dynamics and rendezvous procedures, rocket engines and staging techniques, and tons of other widgets, reports, studies, and results that SpaceX didn't have to do themselves thanks to decades of work by Government engineers and scientists.

    May 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • andy

      Name one other corporation that gives its product to the government for free? We may have paid for this, but its still a private company.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • EvolveNow

      Without government help, as far as studies and data, a commercial space flight such as this would not be possible in this decade. Without public monies I doubt very few, if any, of even the Earth's richest people could afford to fund such a project on their own dime and have any hope to turn a profit before they went broke. Remember, the government is and should be a positive force for job creation. Just think of all the jobs this effort has created already and, once it begins reaching the meger goal of truck drivers to the International Space Station, how many more will be created as they all begin to race for the moon and Mars!

      May 18, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • mr. butters

      I don't understand what you're trying to say. Of course they worked with NASA data. If we tried everything from scratch instead of building on what other people had done we wouldn't advance at all, we would just keep making the same mistakes.

      And of course they got a contract. You need incentive to put all that time and money into building a spacecraft. It's much harder to get people to undertake a project like this for the betterment of mankind, they want to see some return on their investment.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • 70somethingspacefan

      So is it better to farm out the work and get a return on it later ... or would you prefer the government with its massive bureaucracy do it instead. The whole idea is that commercial ventures can do it faster with less bureaucracy and 'sign here 300 times' inefficiency.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Christopher

      I'm also not sure what Bill's trying to say. Unless he means to suggest that SpaceX should have ignored all that NASA learned over its decades of spaceflight and instead spent more decades reinventing the wheel, his entire post can be responded with a rather blatant "Duh?" Of course they used existing knowledge to advance further. That's pretty much how progress works.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • James

      If you do your homework, you would realize that was the original intent for NASA. The reason President Eisenhower selected the NACA as the model for NASA was its incredible success in helping to develop the US Aviation Industry, which is now the only US industry with a positive global trade balance. It was never the NACA's intent to monopolize the aviation industry. It's role was to perform the basic research and share the results with the various aircraft manufacturers. The Government knew then, in 1913, that ensuring commercial leadership in the burgeoning aviation industry would not only ensure military strength, but economic strength as well. That was Eisenhowers vision for NASA. Unfortunately, it took NASA 50 years to realize the benefit of that model.

      May 18, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • phred

      Yes Bill, we heard this comment from you the other half dozen times you made it. Thank you, please go away now. There was a lot of government assistance, just like there is with Loral, Boeing, GM at various poits, and on and on. Just as much as they drew on things developed by NASA, NASA drew on the public sector, university staff, and of course, the Nazi rocket program. Lets make sure to credit them for this too. Without Hitler, we wouldn't have made it to the moon when we did...

      May 18, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  24. BSR

    I have read many of the previous postings with some smiles of amusement and nods of agreement as well as head shaking.
    I also have had nearly 20 yrs of experience working with NASA. True NASA has never built a single rocket or spacecraft, nor have they actually designed one since Von Braun. (BTW JPL is not really NASA, but a Cal Tech lab associated with NASA.) But, I take exception to the coment that contractors are the reason costs spiral. Ususlly the costs increase is caused by NASA continualy tweaking th requirements or requesting additonal performance. These changes stem from the fact that neith NASA nor the contractor really have any "skin in the game". It's not thier money. It came from the taxpayers, and is subject to minor oversight, which maybe is not such a bad thing. The only ones worse than NASA at designing anything technical is congress.
    True also that the engineers at SpaceX have been able to design and build thier vehicles because of all the previous eforts that had to figure out everything from scratch.
    There should be room in the funding priorities of this country to further space exploration for the public good. If that portion of space were abdicated soley to the private sector much information would be sequestered. There is no reason or benefit to be gained from private industry sharing all they learn as they discover, hence they won't unless the data is purchased. How many prospectors romp about in the wilderness taking all the risks and then waltz back into town shouting about the location where all th gold can be found?

    May 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Tony

      Unfortunately, I know that your comment about contractors not being the cause of spiraling costs isn't totally accurate. The company I used to work for had a department that did contracting work for NASA. The nickname for this department was "The Country Club" because it was comprised mostly of older people that had no real concept of deadlines and urgency, and everyone took their time. I will say that changes in requirements were plentiful as well, but this was a department known for eating through money like The Cookie Monster eats cookies. NASA really didn't push back on them either, so they were being rewarded for bad behavior. They were also the only department in the whole company that allowed overtime and plenty of people would use it. Co-workes I know (not really friends of mine) would go in on Saturdays if the weather was bad, do maybe an hour of work, then sit around for 7 more while they goofed off.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • paul

      NASA has built quite a number of satellites and space probes. The Jet propulsion Labs in Pasadena is home to a few of those. I have seen several in various stages of completion over the years.

      May 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  25. WhatWhatWhat?

    If there was a God, his name would be Elon Musk. All people of means should listen up; it's not good enough to just do things for yourself without taking into account the entire future of the entire planet. We've had 65 million years now to get things right, and we're not even close.

    May 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  26. Prescott

    Private companies are good. I try to imagine what it would have been like if the government had been in charge of developing the automobile. We would probably have ten miles of roads, cars the size of tanks that hold one or two people, and go twenty miles an hour, getting three miles to the gallon. And every time there was an accident, they would suspend all car rides for two years.

    Oh, and they would cost a billion dollars each.

    May 18, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Bill

      There are a few facts you don't seem to be aware of, Prescott....

      First of all, NASA gave SpaceX a contract for nearly $300 Million to develop the Dragon capsule. They didn't do it without significant Government investment. Secondly, SpaceX was able to draw upon THOUSANDS of U.S. Government studies, experiments, and tests dating back to the Apollo program which made it SIGNIFICANTLY easier for SpaceX to develop the Dragon spacecraft. These include NASA's development of capsule shapes and heat shield technologies, reentry mathematics and methods, orbital dynamics and rendezvous procedures, rocket engines and staging techniques, and tons of other widgets, reports, studies, and results that SpaceX didn't have to do themselves thanks to decades of work by Government engineers and scientists.

      In short, the idea that this (or any other space endeavor) is really solely "commercial" is a fallacy. I don't mean to disparage the excellent work SpaceX's team has done, but let's all recognize they had significant Government help, both financial and technical, to get where they are.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • bill from GA

      If you think the auto industry iis so independent of government, think again.

      Without gov influence, the auto industry would be selling everyone high profit, three ton SUVs, using Madison Ave. to convince the ignorant masses they HAVE to have one to be cool enough to drive your spoiled brats to school!!

      May 18, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  27. 2/8

    Humanity? A multi-planet species? I seriously hope this fellow is kidding. We haven't managed to secure peace on our own planet. Why should we pollute other planets with our tendency to destroy what we have. Please, Musk, don't try speaking for the entire human race. You're not THAT rich.

    May 18, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Securing peace on Earth would require eliminating religious delusion first, since that's the single biggest obstacle to peace right there. I hope Elon only takes people that he wants to see go, people who don't have religious delusions, like me. I'll be first in line. Guess how easy peace on Mars will be when there are no religious wackos around? Really easy.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
      • upyers

        With no moral compass of your own, I could well imagine you getting lost in your own waste.

        May 19, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
      • Sciguy73

        Are you seriously saying you think you have to be religious to be moral? That only religious people can tell right from wrong? Please. There are a lot more moral athiests around than you realize.

        May 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • eefelac

      Yeah, why would we want to try and expand our existence. OK, everyone west of the Mississipi (except the Native American tribes), pack your bags. We're heading back to the East Coast. In fact, lets go with everyone in North America and make our way back to Europe. It was a complete mistake to explore and find the "New World."

      May 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • deadspam

      Within 75 years, we, the people of planet Earth, will be drowning in our own waste products.

      We NEED to be a multi-planet species to survive.

      Mars is barely habitable, and can supply the needs of a colony with a few elementary machines, one of which was invented in the 1890s – and can be scaled up without an issue. Same for the others.

      Let's get off our collective butts and go for it already.

      I suggest that all of you out there read the back issues of the "Case for Mars" paper series. We could have done it in the 70s right after the Moon missions ended.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  28. Johnna

    Can we trust the private sector to not allow their newly acquired technology to fall into the wrong hands...say, like North Korea. Again, you know what happens with large corporations and their greedy executives, it all comes down to the all mighty dollar. I wouldn't trust them, would you?

    May 18, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • yirter

      I trust them more than corrupt and greedy government officials.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • LonesomeJoe

      dunno... you trust the U.S. government?

      May 18, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • thermion7

      Many corporations work with sensitive technology. Aerospace, computer and energy technologies are filled with sensitive information... But equally important is the fact that much of what they do gives them a corporate advantage that they will protect to give them a sales advantage.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • lapsrus

      Nobody, corporate, government or otherwise, is allowed to sell certain technology to certain countries. ITAR rules apply to everybody.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • len bullard

      This is one time the mantra "only money matters" is wrong. You could give NK the entire plans for a Delta-II and they would still be unable to build and launch one just as with the complete plans for the space shuttle the Soviet Union failed with Buran.

      Rocketry is not simply a matter of technology: it is a matter of skills well-honed by practice of a team that stays together for a long period of time. Further, it requires the team members to be open, scrupulous and fast to react. None of these are true of the dictator ridden countries where fear of being noticed is a dominating trait. Rocket science is only one part science; it is the ultimate in complexity control. The things that can go wrong from a single failed component to oscillation at stage seps are in the parts per million.

      Von Braun (very much Arthur Rudolph) and the Rocket Team succeeded precisely because of who they were and what they had experienced. A Saturn V is still just a scaled up V2. Years of working together under unbelievably bad conditions until the day when as US citizens they directed US industry to exacting plans of both design, manufacture, assembly and launch don't come for nothing, fast or easy. The American successes in space have as much to do with the American spirit of freedom and responsibility as with the millions lavished on them. They also have to do with the willingness of a team of immigrants to form around a passion for space flight and stay together until their one big dream was achieved.

      Then we fired them and sent Rudolph into exile. GIve that some thought the next time you're laughing at the NKs.

      Otherwise, good for Musk. Hold'em together. That really matters.

      May 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
      • Meldar

        Are you kidding me? Von Braun, Arthur Rudolph, and their team were scrupulous? Von Braun, Rudolph and many other members of that "Rocket Team" were also members of the Nazi party. They developed weapons of mass destruction for Adolph Hitler's 3rd Reich dictatorship. Those weapons were produced using concentration camp slave labor in the hellish Mittelwerk tunnels. You seem to admire the "Rocket Team" for "working together under unbelievably bad conditions", well what about the 60,000 slaves they used, almost half of whom were killed in the process? The fact that it was necessary for the U.S. to grab these Nazi war criminals and expropriate their knowledge and technology before the Soviets got it is an understandable but none the less shameful legacy of the Cold War and our early space program.

        May 18, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
      • Iron Sun

        How did the Soviets "fail" with the Buran? It only made one test flight before the collapse of the Soviet Union brought an end to the program. It worked flawlessly. In fact, it was better than the Shuttle, as the main engines were on the Energia booster rather than the orbiter, so it was a more flexible system in that they could remove the orbiter and have a Saturn-V class launcher capable of throwing huge payloads into orbit. So if the program hadn't been cancelled for political reasons and they eventually worked out that the side-mounted orbiter architecture was a huge waste of time and money they could have just retired it and still had a functional extra heavy booster, something the US program couldn't have done.

        May 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Claxton

      Are you kidding, Johnna? The technology we're talking about here dates back to a time before I was born – heck, probably even before you were born. There's really not that much secret about it. Besides, North Korea is already developing ballistic missiles, and it was vehicles like the R-7 and Thor-Delta that helped provide man's first strides into space.

      May 18, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  29. Ahmad

    Has anyone ever asked the question why we keep using old propulsion methods? All of the answers are in nature! Can't we find some kind of dynamic reverse polarity magnetism as a form of propulsion? Allowing a ship to sense the magnetic polarity of a point in space and making the propulsion system reverse the polarity on the fly? Almost a constant push against space if you will?

    Im know I fiction. Good Luck to this project either way. Good to see mankind advancing in terms of space exploration.

    May 18, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • LonesomeJoe

      uhh... any idea how?

      May 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • D

      Magentism is a very weak force at long distances.
      They are working on new propulsion though; plasma, ion, etc

      May 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      I heard they got this thing now where you stand on this circular spot on the floor, and then the air starts to shimmer around you, and then you get teleported to where you want to go. Anyone ever heard of that?

      May 18, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • russ

      Gravity is not magnetism.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • jorgath

      They've come up with some things. So far, what they've come up with looks to be pretty effective in low-g and zero-g environments, but not particularly effective for a surface-to-space launch. You want to get from orbit to another planet's orbit relatively energy-efficiently? Try these newfangled things. You want to get from planet to orbit? Use a rocket.

      May 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  30. rosie

    It is about time we let the private sector show what it is capable of (or what it's limitations are at present). As for going to the other planets this needs a lot of $$ and brainpower and a small company like SpaceX is not qualified (at this time) to even attempt that. NASA is necessary for American space exploration to continue. I just like to see rich people doing cool stuff with their money, like shooting rockets into space or making space gliders. I am a sci-fi nut and still want my darn flying car!!!

    May 18, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • D

      I, for one, can't wait to visit the CocaCola-Scottrade-Trump Resort Complex on Mars.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  31. rickp530

    Wow! 50 to 60 million to send one astronaut to the space station. Anyone know how much it use to cost to send an astronaut to the space station by means of the shuttle? Appears that we should have kept these space vehicles in service until private sectors completed and tested their space vehicles.

    May 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • wrm

      It's impossible to say. Unraveling the costs of a program that big and all the support that goes along with it is tricky. A WAG I've seen is about $500 million per launch so with seven astronauts that would be about $70 million/ea, recognizing of course that you can't send back an empty shuttle, or rather, shouldn't!

      May 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • So?

      yeah! screw astronaut safety!

      May 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • GetReal

      The truth is that the US would not let the Overt Space Program go unless something way better was in place in the Covert Space program. They have the capability to go to the Moon, Mars and outside of our Solar System. I would not doubt if they have colonies already on other Planets and it has been done out of the public eye. These rockets are nothing more than eye candy for the populace.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
      • Paul

        Get Real, how about you GET REAL. I work in the industry and, no, we don't have that technology yet, unless you believe in reverse engineering UFOs.

        May 18, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
      • D

        Someone needs a fresh tinfoil hat today!

        May 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Paul

      Each shuttle launch was about $375 million, not including ground support after the launch.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
      • BThorn

        $375 million? Not since the 1980s, Paul, if then. I've never seen a realistic cost estimate less than about $450 million (and that was in the mid-1990s with 7 or 8 flights per year), and in the 2000s with 4 or 5 flights per year, the cost was north of $700 million each. If you take all the money spent on the Shuttle from Day 1 to the last flight and divide it by the number of flights, the cost was $1.5 billion or so each, but that's not a true indication of how much a Shuttle flight cost in, say 2010.

        May 18, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
      • paul


        The 2011 estimate was $450 billion but that include both recurring and non-recurring costs such as launch range and ongoing ground ops. The actual cost to put it into orbit is the figure i quoted, which is very similar to the cost to launch one Delta IV rocket.

        May 18, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • BThorn

      Hard to say, because Shuttle didn't just carry astronauts, it carried over 50,000 lbs. in the cargo bay on the same flight. A Shuttle flight in a typical year cost $500-700 million each. More in years with few flights (i.e. 2005), less in years with lots of flights (i.e., 1997) So how do you subdivide the cost of the astronauts from the cost of carrying 50,000 lbs. of cargo?

      May 18, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
      • paul

        Discounting the benefit of human presence in space, the shuttle is very expensive to use just to launch cargo.

        May 18, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  32. There. Are. No. Gods!

    My only problem with private corporations taking over space exploration is that these corporations are not in it for exploration, they are in it for exploitation. This is a money game for the corporations, exploration is not the end goal.

    May 18, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Brooklyn Boy

      That's a debatable point but we're not "turning over" space exploration to private companies, just the parts of it that they could accomplish more effiiciently than government. By handing over space station supply (and eventually crew transport) over to company's like SpaceX, NASA can focus on what it does best – exploration.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • rkt210

      If you remember history, you'll remember that Columbus discovered the New World because he was looking for a shorter trade route to India. It's always been about profit.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:50 am |
      • Patrick Dunn

        Bingo... I was thinking the exact same thing. MOST exploration is fueled by profits. If we have everything we need here and can sustain it forever, then man wouldn't need to explore. The technological gains and search for extraterrestrial life or habitable planets will be fueled by profits because people serve to gain from each of those.

        May 18, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • So?

      Why are you against businesses making money? Who cares? If their efforts speed up progress, what's so wrong with making a profit?

      May 18, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • derek

      And NASA isn't in it for the exploitation? Yes there are many science experiments on board the ISS, but make no mistake, much of the funding for NASA comes from the DOD. .. And I don't see anything wrong with that. Nor do I see a problem with extra-planetary mining and/or natural resource exploitation. This is how things get done, and science is a product of this.I am all for science, much more than any exploitation interests or military prerogatives, but I'm more interested in getting this space thing going for humans today rather than 50 years from now. And this is how it's done. Bring on the final frontier!

      May 18, 2012 at 11:53 am |
      • Paul

        Nasa funding does not come from the DoD. Nasa has their own line items in each budget. Anything the DoD does is paid for by them but does not fund NASA. I work in the industry and I know that NASA lets their own contracts for rockets just as the Air Force and NRO. does.

        May 18, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
      • BThorn

        Derek... "much of the funding for NASA comes from the DOD.


        May 18, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
      • Sciguy73

        Nasa funding comes from Congress.

        May 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • I. Agree.

      So what? If it drives space exploration, then I'm all for its exploitation.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • sybaris

      Exploitation, exactly!

      Don't forget what happened on LV-426!!

      May 18, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • dewed

      Private means...for exploitation? You mean like how the Wright Brothers privately developed aircraft?

      May 18, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • wrm

      Private companies have been building the spacecraft since day one. The management and organizational structure is different here but it isn't as big a change as everyone makes it out to be.

      Spacex has had to cut some corners, or maybe let's say, round some corners in the reliability and verification department to meet cost restrictions. Let's see how it plays out.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
      • Paul

        Please explain just how they have "rounded" corners. Compared to the DoD funded launches, Space-X is proceeding rather cautiously and building on proven designs.

        May 18, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Mike

      After the corporations exhaust all of the resources, they will have a way out.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • mhwood

      Feel free to create and fund your own organization to do exploration. Or just pay one of these companies to do your bidding. They will be happy to send robots or people to the planets if the price is right.

      Better to pay someone who will do anything for a buck, than to surrender the money to politicians who then tell you they won't do what you paid them for. Private access to space should be liberating, and let NASA get back to doing things that nobody else can.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • jason

      Then we can shutdown NASA and add that money to give tax break to Bane for buying more companies and shipping those jobs overseas

      May 18, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Tom

      Business funds progress, and business opportunities bring science out of the lab and into the real world.

      May 19, 2012 at 4:45 am |

    You know what amazes me about this privatized space flight?

    It's how the republicans complain about everything. First, they complain about government run beuracracies such as NASA. Then the complain how we cut the budge and are wasting money on these private programs.

    You literally can't win with these guys. They talk out of all orifices.

    Make up your damn minds.

    Do you want to privatize the space industry or keep the so called bloated NASA?

    May 18, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • John B.

      We are keeping Nasa. Its sending rockets to Mars *points*. I think the problem that some pubs had was that private industry was not ready to take over for Nasa when it was asked to. Untill that time, the US had to rely on foreign powers to send our guys and materials into orbit.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Nah

      occupy: "It's how the republicans complain about everything. First, they complain about government run beuracracies such as NASA. Then the complain how we cut the budge and are wasting money on these private programs."

      You're not very bright, are you?

      Republicans aren't against all government. Hence, their support for NASA isn't contradictory. Why? Because they're against unnecessary government programs, or programs that would be better served by private businesses (e.g., ones where customer service and quality goods are of primary importance).

      They are not against programs that are not intended to be profitable, and are only intended to discover new facts, science, etc. You know, programs that would bankrupt a private business.

      NASA is such a program.

      Next time try to avoid mischaracterizing your opponent's positions.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:54 am |
      • good_answer_nah

        Nah is one of the smart republicans! I commend you for your wise answer.

        May 18, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
      • Paul

        Agreed, except for one small point. Several studies have been done that show the ROI for money spent by NASA was between 300-700%. Meaning that the taxpayers got $3-7 for every1$ spent by the form of advances in technology and products. Unless you live in a mud hut and gather your own food with your bare hands, your daily life is touched in hundreds of ways by technology and products deveolped as a direct result of the space program.

        May 18, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  34. Zaximus42

    I agree with Robb. I was sad to see the shuttle get grounded but only because of what it represented. It served it's purpose to prove the possibilities and set benchmarks but it was overdue for an overhaul. At the same time I was very happy to see the market open to free enterprise and go-getter private development in a more open relationship. In time, we'll see more technology, more people involved, costs come down and easier access to space. I'm very excited for one.

    May 18, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  35. relians

    awesome! i wonder if they have any job openings?

    May 18, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  36. Jason B.

    Best of luck to them! I wish everyone at SpaceX and NASA a successful launch and dock.

    May 18, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  37. Vince

    This would'nt be possibe if it weren't for the government doing all of the years of research and developement. There is no way that the private sector could of accoomplished this with stock holders breathing down their necks.

    May 18, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Bub


      May 18, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • vbscript2

      That's usually how massive R&D projects work. The government funds years of R&D and then profits from taxes when the private sector does something productive with it. R&D projects are one of the few functions of the U.S. federal govenrment that actually have long-term economic benefits for everyone.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  38. Prefection

    I can't wait to look up into the night sky and see the first Walmart orbiting the Earth.

    May 18, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • bluemold

      It will probably attract a better class of customers than earth-bound stores.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:35 am |
      • Ix

        Most of the Walmart customers here on earth already significantly influence gravity. I think I saw a few with objects orbiting them. This could spell disaster if we allow them to go into space.

        May 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
      • Spacer

        Wait until you see their pictures on "People Of Space Wal-mart dot com". There's sure to be fat, stupid astronauts with zebra-striped too-tight spandex spacesuits dragging their kids behind in a space-stroller, leaking oxygen with the kids screaming that they can't breath, spending way to much money to buy fake moon rocks that fall apart two days after you buy them.

        May 18, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  39. Josh

    If the Dragon does indeed experience "zero gravity", it would definitely never achieve orbit, but instead float/fling out into deep space.

    One needs gravity in order to orbit, and while in orbit, gravity never goes away.

    BTW, what you have in orbit is FREE FALL, not "zero gravity". I would have hoped that someone designing a spacecraft would actually know that.

    May 18, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • NODAT1

      thanks sheldon

      May 18, 2012 at 11:50 am |
      • Smell This

        Good One, NODAT1!

        May 18, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • I'm The Best!

      Zero gravity and free fall is the same thing. Gravity never goes to zero no matter where you are in the universe. It's all free fall.

      When someone says zero g they are talking about not feeling the effects of gravity which you don't during free fall. You can hop in the air and experience this.

      My point is, they knew what they were saying.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • TRH

      Pretty sure the quotes indicate that Mr Musk only refers to being in orbit. The UNQUOTED filler text is what talks about zero gravity. Blame the article writer NOT the expert.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • vbscript2

      By zero gravity, they're referring to a normal force equal to zero G's, which is what you experience during free fall. Relative to your surroundings, you experience negligible gravitational force. While obviously gravity relative to the earth (or whatever you're orbiting) is required for orbit, you do not experience a gravitational force holding you to the floor (or at least the one you do experience is of negligible magnitude) and, therefore, you do not experience the equal but opposite normal force from the floor pushing back on your feet.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • svann

      Technically, you are right that you experience gravity even in weightless orbit. The tidal force still exists (difference in gravitic force from your head to your toes) even though you are weightless. But its a nitpick really.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • blah9999

      If you're propped up in space with zero velocity, you'll be free falling toward something. Depending on how close to a massive object determines how quickly you fall. So, yes, zero gravity is about 99% accurate. A more accurate term for LEO would be Simulated Zero gravity. Since the earth, at that distance, is still pulling you down at 9.8m/s^2.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Brett

      The correct term is "microgravity".

      May 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  40. Robb

    Everybody makes such a big deal that we're privatizing space by allowing a private company to build rockets and launch them. Guess what everyone? NASA has never built a rocket, capsule or vehicle. Contractors do. Contractors that allow costs to soar because the taxpayers are footing the bill. The only difference here is that SpaceX has be be accountable for the money they spend because utilmately that want to make a buck. This type of entrepreneurialism in space is long overdue. NASA has shown they can't keep costs under control or make space exploration affordable. The shuttles never lived up to their promise of a flight or two a month. They were costly, complex and ultimately inefficient. Time to get with the program and let old ideas go. Let innovation rule and may the best man (company) win).

    May 18, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Paul

      There have been commercial launces for decades. One notable rocket is the Boeing/ULA Delta IV which was built to a commercial contract. It is now part of the EELV program which is a service contract to launch payloads into space using either a Delta or Atlas V booster and Centaur upper stage.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:19 pm |


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