Commercial Rocket En Route to International Space Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared into space from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying the Dragon capsule to orbit at 3:44 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. The launch is the company's second demonstration test flight for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, or COTS, Program. During the flight, there will be a series of check-out procedures to test and prove Dragon's systems, including rendezvous and berthing with the International Space Station. If the capsule performs as planned, the cargo and experiments it is carrying will be transferred to the station. Image Credit: NASA/Alan Ault
The commercial SpaceX rocket is on its way to the International Space Station after a successful launch early this morning.

The Falcon 9 rocket launched at 2:44 this morning, carrying the unmanned Dragon spacecraft filled with cargo.

It's the first time a private company will attempt to deliver goods to the ISS.

SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk says they still have to test the instrument bay doors and the sensors to make sure the Dragon will be able to lock on to the ISS.

"And then we're going to see how well those sensors are performing. Then in a few days we will do a fly-by of the space station and attempt to do the lockon with the sensors and do precision maneuvers relative to the space station."

On Friday, NASA engineers will decide if Dragon will be allowed to approach the station. If preliminary maneuvers are successful, the spacecraft will dock with the ISS for six days before returning to Earth.

NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration Bill Gerstenmaier says if things go well on this mission, NASA is prepared to immediately start using commercial rockets to deliver all cargo to the ISS.

"We'll take a look at how the mission goes and if we think the failure is small enough and can be easily corrected, then we could go right into commercial supply services and we wouldn't need to do another demonstration flight. If it's something that we collectively think requires a lot of extra work and would actually benefit from another test flight, then we would go propose a test flight."

SpaceX is also working with NASA to develop a private spacecraft that could carry seven astronauts to and from the ISS.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...