Dragon by the Tail

A little less than a year ago, my wife and I spent about an hour with the SpaceX Dragon test capsule that had gone into and come back from orbit. It was on display for the final shuttle launch. I did not expect to be filled with feelings of awe and excitement, but I was.

Today, the Dragon capsule is docked to the ISS, after a nearly flawless flight in every respect. And unlike the ESA and ROSCOSMOS and JAXA supply ships, it is not destined for a fiery plunge into oblivion loaded with trash. It will be filled with science experiments and equipment and will return to Earth by parachute, filling one of the significant voids left by the shuttle program’s end. This objectively sounds pretty boring, but just typing it gives me another unexpected thrill.

There’s still time for something to go wrong. This won’t be a success until the capsule is safely bobbing in the ocean and the ISS is resupplied and still safe. But I can’t help thinking of the first time humans climb out of Dragon into the ISS. And I can’t help wondering if in twenty or thirty years, Andy Pettit’s “Looks like we caught a Dragon by the tail” will be as quotable as Neil’s first words on the moon – or at least Gene Cernan’s last words from the moon.

I can’t help feeling that something really important for humanity’s relationship to space happened today.

Launch (and orbit and solar panel deployment) video after the break.

Watch the launch again here:

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