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Updated @ 16:57 April 14: Bad news — there was a helium leak on the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage, and so the launch of CRS-8 has been postponed until repairs are made. SpaceX now tentatively hopes to launch CRS-3 on April 18.
Updated @ 13:40 April 14: After a couple of delays, SpaceX’s CRS-3 resupply mission to the International Space Station is finally go for takeoff. Launch is scheduled to occur at 16:58 EDT (21:58 UK time) from Cape Canaveral. As a reminder, this will be the first heavy launch vehicle that will attempt a soft landing back here on Earth — and as such, if it’s a success, this could be one of history’s most significant space launches. The original story from March, detailing the soft landing, is below. There is also a live video stream of the launch embedded below — if you have a few minutes, be sure to watch it; the soft landing should be spectacular.
SpaceX, Elon Musk’s poster child of the commercial space travel revolution, is about to attempt the first ever soft landing of a heavy space launch vehicle. On March 16, SpaceX mission CRS-3 will lift off from Cape Canaveral on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. Usually, the massive primary stage of the rocket would fall into the Atlantic ocean after launch — but in this case, it will sprout some metal legs and use what’s left of its rocket fuel to slowly return to Earth. This is perhaps the single most important step in SpaceX’s stated goal of reducing the cost of space travel by a factor of 10, eventually leading to the human colonization of Mars.
One of the primary reasons that the human exploration of space is moving so slowly is cost. Yes, you can argue that space agencies like NASA and ESA should receive more funding, but at the end of the day it’s still excruciatingly expensive for humanity to send stuff into space. For heavy lift vehicles, which are required to lift large satellites, equipment, and supplies into space, it costs somewhere in the region of $10, 000 to lift a single pound ($22, 000/kg) into orbit around the Earth. It costs even more if you want to propel that mass out of the Earth’s gravity and over to Mars. For sending astronauts into space, though, NASA currently pays around $70 million per seat aboard the Soyuz space capsule. (A crewed version of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, DragonRider, is in development, which will reduce the cost per seat to $20 million — but it won’t launch until 2015 at the earliest.)
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