Space travel gets farther from the dream stage and closer to reality every day. Today, SpaceX will attempt to become the first private company to dock a capsule with the International Space Station. It’s a critical step in NASA’s plan for private contractors to transport cargo and crew into space and another step towards a new generation of space travel.
Called the Commercial Crew Development Program, NASA’s goal is “to accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities and reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capability. Through this activity, NASA also may be able to spur economic growth as potential new space markets are created,” the space agency said in a press release.
Just one such space market hopes to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals employing cost-effective exploration technologies.
“Water is perhaps the most valuable resource in space. Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system. In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Planetary Resources, Inc., in a multi-media news release earlier this month.
Touting benefits in the tens of billions of dollars, Planetary Resources says a single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the platinum mined in history.
Late last month, SpaceX webcast a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket’s nine powerful Merlin engines in preparation for the company’s upcoming launch. Engines ran for two seconds before a planned abort.
The launch will be webcast live early Saturday morning, with commentary from SpaceX corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, California, at www.spacex.com.
Saturday’s flight by SpaceX is “a thoroughly exciting moment in the history of spaceflight, but is just the beginning of a new way of doing business for NASA,” said President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser, John Holdren in the Washington Times.
The webcast will begin approximately 40 minutes before launch when SpaceX hosts will provide information specific to the flight, an overview of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, and commentary on the launch and flight sequences.