When SpaceX launches a Dragon capsule full of supplies toward the International Space Station Sunday night, it will be the beginning of a new era for space exploration. It will be the first privately funded commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo shipments to space.
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After SpaceX successfully tested its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon capsule in May (see its historic docking in the gallery below), now it's ready to actually deliver the goods, consisting of a half a ton of equipment and supplies. If all goes well with the launch attempt, set for 8:35 p.m. ET Sunday night, the Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the space station on Wednesday, October 10.
This initial mission carrying a half-ton of cargo will be the first of 12 resupply flights NASA has contracted with SpaceX. The space agency and SpaceX have made a $1.6 billion deal to deliver 20 metric tons of supplies into space for NASA.
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Tonight's launch puts the United States back into the space launching business again, a welcome capability for NASA, whose space shuttle fleet has been retired since Space Shuttle Atlantis landed on on July 21, 2011 after its last flight.
If the weather is clear, people on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States will be able to see the launch. According to Space.com, the Falcon 9 launch vehicle will be especially visible from the southeast U.S. coastline, with a less dramatic view in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast coastal regions:
- Southeast U.S. coastline: Anywhere north of Cape Canaveral, viewers should initially concentrate on the south-southwest horizon. If you are south of the Cape, look low toward the north-northeast. If you're west of the Cape, look low toward the east-northeast.
- Mid-Atlantic region:Look toward the south about 3 to 6 minutes after launch.
- Northeast:Concentrate your gaze low toward the south-southeast about 6 to 8 minutes after launch.
Get out your binoculars, and look close to the horizon for the spacecraft. You might also want to be sure the Falcon has actually launched -- you can watch it live on NASA's public Ustream site.
SpaceX Dragon Capsule flying in formation with the ISS
This story originally published on Mashable here.