Next month is an important month for the NASA space program. It will mark the first visit of a commercial spacecraft to the International Space Station in history. With the Shuttle fleet retired, most of the supplies and visits to the ISS have been performed using Russian spacecraft. In February, SpaceX will send its first Dragon spacecraft to the ISS.
The ISS crew is excited because this isn’t only a visit by a new ship; the Dragon will also be bringing supplies like food, clothing, and other supplies for the crew. The Dragon flight is being funded in part by the NASA Commercial Orbiter Transportation Services (COTS). The Dragon is an automated ship and one of the most important things about Dragon’s arrival is that it will allow items from the ISS to return to Earth.
The Dragon craft will allow the return of “significant” payloads to Earth. That means broken equipment can be sent home and repaired and samples can be returned to Earth. The first visit by the Dragon ship will be unmanned, but it was designed to carry people as well.
SpaceX expects to launch the Dragon from Cape Canaveral using its Falcon 9 booster on February 7th.