Hawthorne Spacecraft Set to Launch to Space Station

It's the first time a rocket and spacecraft made by a private company is going to launch to the International Space Station

By Conan Nolan and Julie Brayton
|  Wednesday, May 16, 2012  |  Updated 8:19 PM PDT
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Astronomer Ben Burris says privatizing spacecrafts will

Conan Nolan, Beth Slepp-Paz

Astronomer Ben Burris says privatizing spacecrafts will "keep costs down, and in the long run makes things more effecient." That theory is ready to be tested now that the first rocket and spacecraft made by a private company is set to launch to the International Space Station. The Dragon Capsule is made by Hawthorne-based company SpaceX. Conan Nolan reports for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on May 16, 2012.

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A historic flight is set to take place early Saturday morning at 1:55am PDT, when an unmanned spacecraft, named Dragon, launches atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Dragon, made by Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), is the first private spacecraft to fly to the International Space Station, where it will tether to the ISS bringing food and supplies.

SpaceX is seeking to take advantage of NASA's need to fill the gap left by the retired space shuttle program.

"It will help keep costs down, and in the long run make things more efficient," said Ben Burris, astronomer.

The mission will be carefully watched by scientists including Dr. Kenneth Phillips, Aerospace Curator at the California Science Center.

"Things that a company like SpaceX could do, or other companies, that they could make profitable," Phillips said. "Providing a service for NASA that's useful over a long period of time. I think it makes sense."

Success of the mission could usher in a new era in the privatization of space exploration, and be a shot in the arm to Southern California's aerospace industry.

"I think it would be incentive for other people to get in, see this as a competitive market," Phillips said. "Something that they might be able to do even more cost effectively."

SpaceX already has plans for moon missions and space tourism. It all starts this weekend, with one small step, for the privatization, of the space age.

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