Early tomorrow morning (4:55 EDT), SpaceX—the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft—is going to attempt another first: being the first private company to dock a spacecraft to the International Space Station.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will propel a cargo-laden Dragon capsule towards the ISS. While none of the cargo aboard is considered mission critical or irreplacable, SpaceX’s mission is part of a comprehensive NASA evaluation of their capability to launch, rendezvous with the ISS and return to earth.
While waiting to dock, astronauts will perform a number of tests on Dragon’s automated controls, including a manual override by the ISS crew. Their success will help land them a contract to become the first commercial carrier to deliver to the ISS.
With the ending of the Space Shuttle program and the scuttling of its successor, the United States is currently reliant on other countries like Russia to get our astronauts and supplies into space. Contracts with companies like SpaceX will play key parts in the United States’ role in the future.