The SpaceX Dragon capsule safely returned to earth, or more accurately, to sea today, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja at 12:22 PM PT. The return marks the end of NASA Commercial Resupply Flight number 1, and a conclusion to the first official commercial supply run to space in history. Future cargo trips, whether to private stations, the Moon, Mars, outer planets, or perhaps somehow, even other star sytems will in a very real sense be able to trace their origins back to this moment, as well as the equally successsful COTS 2/3 “test” flight which preceeded it. How soon any of that happens depends on a rapidly changing environment.
By the time the next Dragon launches, currently scheduled for late January, much will have changed in the world. The last Space Shuttle, Atlantis, will be in its final home at the Visitors Complex at the Kennedy Space Center, the U.S. Presidential election will mercifully be over, and presumably, Orbital Sciences will have completed its first test launch of the Antares rocket, revealing just how far the already striking success of the COTS/CRS programs will extend.
There are currently 11 more scheduled CRS missions for SpaceX, but with both the Commercial Crew program still in development, and a senior NASA group reportedly promoting an extension of ISS operations until 2028, this is only the start of something big. One can only wonder how many more succesful missions will be required before the lessons of COTS are incorporated into plans for journeying beyond low Earth orbit into the rest of CIS-lunar space.
For now however, congratulations to the entire SpaceX team, as well as the people at NASA and their supporters in Congress who made this program possible. The future’s looking better every day.