Extreme Logistics
Extreme Logistics

Dragon’s Breadth

November 6, 2012
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Every month World Trade 100 brings readers a look at some of the most extreme logistics out there. However, what was once “extreme” is now routine and standard. Still, even to the most jaded logistician, there are still some deliveries that are out of this world.  

It was a typical delivery in many ways: half a ton of cargo, including a freezer filled to capacity with wafer cups with chocolate and vanilla ice cream.

A decade after Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to cut the costs of reaching orbit, SpaceX flew its first paid mission to the International Space Station, reopening a U.S. supply line shut down when NASA retired its space shuttle fleet last year.

Expedition 33 crew members Akihiko Hoshide and Sunita Williams grappled Dragon and attached it to the station on Oct. 8, 2012, completing a critical stage of the SpaceX CRS-1 cargo resupply mission.

Hoshide used the station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon and guide it to the station’s Harmony module, and then Expedition 33 Commander Williams installed Dragon to Harmony’s common berthing mechanism, enabling it to be bolted in place for an expected 18-day stay at the station.

“Looks like we tamed the Dragon,” commander Sunita Williams radioed to Mission Control in Houston upon capture. “We’re happy she’s on board with us. Thanks to everybody at SpaceX and NASA for bringing her here to us. And the ice cream.”

Next, the station crew pressurized the vestibule between the station and Dragon and opened the hatch that leads to the forward bulkhead of the spacecraft. The crew unloaded Dragon’s cargo, which includes crew supplies, vehicle hardware, experiments, and an ultra-cold freezer for storing scientific samples. And ice cream, of course.

Dragon is the only space station cargo craft capable of returning a significant amount of supplies back to Earth, including experiments. Dragon was filled with about 1,000 pounds of supplies, including critical materials to support the 166 investigations planned for the station’s Expedition 33 crew, of which 63 will be new. Dragon will return with about 734 pounds of scientific materials, including results from human research, biotechnology, materials and education experiments, as well as about 504 pounds of space station hardware.

“This is a big moment in the course of this mission and for commercial spaceflight,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Technical Officer Elon Musk. “We are pleased that Dragon is now ready to deliver its cargo to the International Space Station.”

The mission, designated SpaceX CRS-1, is the first of at least 12 that SpaceX will perform under NASA’s $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon is scheduled to return to Earth on October 28 for a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of southern California. Return cargo will include used station hardware and more than a ton of scientific samples. wt


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Photo courtesy of SpaceX

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