The Space Shuttle might be a relic of the past, but that doesn't mean America isn't still going to space. More and more, it's becoming a private affair.
Elon Musk's Hawthorne-based SpaceX was given a preliminary green light by NASA today for its second space mission. This one will be special, though:
The SpaceX Dragon capsule will be allowed to ...
... rendezvous with the International Space Station, according to NASA. It's scheduled to blast off Feb. 7.
It looks like it will be an unmanned flight. NASA says it'll go down like this:
Dragon will perform the final approach to the ISS while the station crew grapples the vehicle with the station's robotic arm. The capsule will be berthed to the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node. At the end of the mission, the crew will reverse the process, detaching Dragon from the station for its return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific off the coast of California. If the rendezvous and attachment to the station are not successful, SpaceX will complete a third demonstration flight in order to achieve these objectives as originally planned.
The Los Angeles Times notes that docking a shuttle at the station is "a feat that's been accomplished only by the world's wealthiest nations."
Even though Elon Musk is a reported billionaire (from PayPal, et. al.) and automaker (Tesla Motors), you, the taxpayer, are giving him lots of money to get his rocket ship off the ground: Nearly $400 million worth, according to NASA, and $1.6 billion if it keeps on doing it through a twelfth space mission.
That's a blast.