SpaceX Dragon Capsule Arrives at Space Station With Precious Cargo

The blue Earth glows behind SpaceX's private Dragon spacecraft as it sits at the end of the International Space Station's robotic arm.
The blue Earth glows behind SpaceX's private Dragon spacecraft as it sits at the end of the International Space Station's robotic arm following its arrival on Oct. 10, 2012. The mission is the first commercial cargo delivery to the station for NASA. (Image credit: NASA TV)

This story was updated at 1:30 p.m. ET.

A privately built robotic space capsule arrived at the International Space Station early Wednesday (Oct. 10) to make the first-ever commercial cargo delivery to the orbiting lab under a billion-dollar deal with NASA.

The unmanned Dragon spacecraft was captured by station astronauts using a robotic arm after an apparently flawless approach by the cargo-laden space capsule, which was built by the private spaceflight company SpaceX. It is the first of 12 resupply flights SpaceX will fly for NASA under a $1.6 billion deal.

The astronauts' chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream, a rare treat for the space station crew, was a last-minute item packed along with the nearly 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms) of supplies riding up to the orbiting lab on the Dragon capsule. [Photos: SpaceX's Dragon Arrives at Space Station]

The SpaceX spacecraft was captured at about 6:56 a.m. EDT (1122 GMT) by Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide as the space station soared 250 miles (402 kilometers) above the Pacific Ocean, just west of Baja California. The capsule was attached to an Earth-facing docking port on the station at 9:03 a.m. EDT (1303 GMT).

SpaceX's Dragon space capsule hovers just below the International Space Station's robotic arm in this view from an arm camera on Oct. 10, 2012, during the CRS-1 commercial cargo mission. (Image credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX launched the Dragon spacecraft into orbit on Sunday (Oct. 7) atop a Falcon 9 rocket (also built by the company) from a pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It is expected to spend at least three weeks linked to the space station and be filled with nearly 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) of experiment results and station gear for the return trip to Earth.


"This is a big moment in the course of this mission and for commercial spaceflight," said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur who founded the company in 2002. "We are pleased that Dragon is now ready to deliver its cargo to the International Space Station."

SpaceX officials watched over the Dragon capsule's arrival from the company's mission control center in Hawthorne, while NASA monitored the orbital rendezvous from its station Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.  The spacecraft is expected to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near Southern California on Oct. 28.

The station crew said Dragon was a welcome sight as it approached their orbital home.

"It's nice to see Dragon flying over the U.S.," Williams said during the space rendezvous.

With NASA's space shuttle fleet retired, the space agency is relying on private spacecraft to ferry supplies and astronaut crews to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX's Dragon is the first American spacecraft to launch to the space station since NASA's final shuttle mission in July 2011.

Wednesday's Dragon arrival followed on the success of a May test flight to the station by SpaceXto prove that its privately built space capsules could rendezvous with the orbiting lab and return home safely.

The Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX is one of two companies with a NASA contract for unmanned cargo delivery missions. The other company, Orbital Sciences Corp., of Virginia, has a $1.9 billion contract for eight resupply missions using its new Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. Orbital's first rocket test flight is expected later this year.

SpaceX is also developing a manned version of its Dragon spacecraft. The company is one of four spaceflight firms pursuing private space taxis to serve NASA's need to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.