26 May 2012

First private craft reaches space station

9:16 am on 26 May 2012

An unmanned space capsule has become the first commercial space ship to to reach the International Space Station.

Astronauts on the platform used the space station's robotic crane to grasp the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship and attach it to a berthing port.

The capsule, built and operated by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, is the first of two new commercial freighters NASA will use to ferry cargo following the retirement of its space shuttles last year.

Rather than building and flying its own ships to the station, the agency is hiring private companies to do the work.

The capsule is carrying about 544 kilograms of food, water, clothing and supplies for the station crew.

The craft will be repacked with 590 kilograms of equipment to be returned to Earth and will depart the station on 31 May. It is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California later that day.

The United States plans to use a similar process to buy commercial flight services for its astronauts as well, breaking Russia's monopoly on flying crews to the station.