SpaceX (officially Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of Hawthorne, Calif.) has designed Dragon to fly robotically at first, though the company has designs to man-rate the capsule. Eventually, Dragon is planned to be able to carry up to seven crewmembers to orbit, and could be used to transport astronauts as well as cargo to the space station.
For this test flight, Dragon is loaded with 1,014 pounds of cargo for the orbiting laboratory, including 674 pounds of food, clothing and supplies for the station's six-man crew. It will also deliver scientific equipment and electronic hardware, including a laptop.
If the capsule's on-orbit checkouts go smoothly, then on Tuesday, NASA astronaut Don Pettit and European Space Agency flyer Andre Kuipers use the space station's 57.7-foot robotic arm to reach out and grab Dragon and berth it to the station's Harmony node.
The vehicle is scheduled to stay at the outpost for about two weeks. Then, it will be unberthed and will head back to Earth where it is planned to re-enter the atmosphere and land in the Pacific Ocean.
In contrast to the other unmanned vehicles that ferry cargo to the space station, Dragon is equipped with a heat shield to survive re-entry and be recovered after landing. Thus, before it departs the station, astronauts plan to load it full of science experiments ready for analysis on the ground, as well as used hardware to be returned to NASA.
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