NASA Administrator Charles Bolden got an up-close look June 13 at the Dragon capsule that in May became the first private vehicle ever to dock with the international space station.

Bolden viewed the Dragon at the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, where he joined SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk. The two men thanked the more than 150 SpaceX employees who work at the facility for helping make Dragon’s groundbreaking flight possible.

“The Dragon capsule is a tangible example of the new era of exploration unfolding right now,” Bolden said. “I congratulate Elon Musk and the SpaceX team again for this historic milestone.”

Dragon launched May 22 on a demonstration mission to see if the spacecraft and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 are ready to begin a series of contracted supply runs to the orbiting lab for NASA. Dragon docked with the station May 25 and capped its successful flight with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico six days later.

Dragon is the only robotic cargo craft currently available that can survive the return trip to Earth. Other supply ships burn up in the planet’s atmosphere after leaving the station.

After splashdown and recovery, the capsule was shipped to McGregor, where SpaceX personnel offloaded the 620 kilograms of gear Dragon brought back to Earth. Bolden had the chance to view this cargo during his tour as well.

Dragon’s recent flight was SpaceX’s second and final demonstration mission under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, which aims to spur the development of private cargo-carrying craft to fill the void left by the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle.

SpaceX holds a $1.6 billion Cargo Resupply Services contract to make 12 unmanned supply flights to the station, and the first of these bona fide cargo runs could blast off as early as September, NASA officials have said.

The company is also working to develop a crew-carrying version of Dragon, which it hopes will be carrying NASA astronauts to and from the station within three years or so.



Dragon Headed for Texas after Historic Flight