ISS Crew to Open Hatches to Dragon Saturday Morning, Dragon to Depart May 31

ISS Crew to Open Hatches to Dragon Saturday Morning, Dragon to Depart May 31

The successful berthing of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS) today is earning accolades from many quarters.  The next big step is when the International Space Station (ISS) crew opens the hatches between Dragon and ISS Saturday morning.

The event is scheduled for 7:40 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  NASA TV coverage will begin at 5:30 am EDT and a press conference with the ISS crew is scheduled for 11:25 am EDT.

Lead flight director Holly Ridings said at a press conference today that Dragon will have a relatively short stay at the ISS, departing on May 31 at about 5:00 am Central Daylight Time (CDT), which would be 6:00 am EDT.  The ISS crew needs to unpack Dragon’s 460 kilograms (1,014 pounds) of cargo and then load it with up to 620 kilograms (1,367 pounds) of items for return to Earth during those few short days.  She estimated it would take about 25 hours of work to unload it.

ISS program manager Mike Sufferdini said that if the mission continues to unfold successfully, the first Commercial Resupply Flight (CRS) could happen as early as September.   He also updated the status of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s competitor to SpaceX, the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.   He said Orbital anticipates the first test launch as early as August, with its demonstration flight in December, and first CRS mission next spring.

Ridings and Sufferdini were part of a press conference airing from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, but they were joined by a clearly elated Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of Space X, and NASA’s Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of the commercial crew and cargo program, from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.    Surrounded by cheering and chanting employees, Musk was asked about all the young faces among his workforce.  He said that he believes it is important “to mix the wisdom of age with the vibrancy of youth to get the best outcome,” adding that the average age at SpaceX is 30, with half of the employees over 30 and half of them under.  A reporter from Bloomberg News asked if today’s success would affect Musk’s timing for holding an Initial Public Offering (IPO) for SpaceX.  Musk replied no, that the timing is dependent on the company having a “steady cadence of launches.”  He also joked that he refers to Dragon “docking” with ISS instead of “berthing,” even though the latter technically is correct, because people think he is talking about “birthing” and get confused. 

Dragon did not dock with ISS.  It moved close to ISS and then was grappled by astronauts using Canadarm2 who then “installed” Dragon at its docking port.  That is berthing.  Dragon needs to have someone aboard ISS to perform those last critical steps; it cannot join with the ISS itself.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was speaking at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Washington, DC as Dragon was being captured by the ISS crew using the robotic Canadarm 2.  Jeff Foust (@Jeff_Foust) tweeted that Bolden said “after today, many more believers in commercial spaceflight than just an hour ago” and “if we deliver things on time and on cost, people will believe what we say.”    Bolden later called the ISS crew to congratulate everyone on a “superb effort today.”

John Holdren, President Obama’s Science Adviser and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued his own congratulatory statement, and OSTP released a compilation of statements by members of the space community.  Other statements were issued by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.


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