CAPE CANAVERAL — A private company is on track to become the first commercial visitor to the International Space Station.
NASA said Monday there's a good chance that Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, will make its April 30 date to launch a cargo ship to the space station. More software testing is needed before a final "go" is given. Managers said they will meet again next Monday to review everything.
The Dragon spacecraft will be hoisted aboard the company's Falcon rocket from Cape Canaveral.
The company's chief executive officer and chief designer, Paypal co-founder Elon Musk, said the Falcon and Dragon are proven vehicles. What's new is getting the supply ship to the space station. Musk was hesitant to give out odds for success, stressing that this is a test flight.
NASA has paid $381 million to SpaceX to get this far, under its post-shuttle push for commercially provided cargo and, in three or more years, possibly crew. Musk said the company has put about $1 billion of its own money into the venture.
SpaceX is one of several companies competing for the right to handle astronaut ferry trips. Until then, American astronauts will have to travel aboard Russian spacecraft to the space station.
Musk plans two more Dragon flights to the space station this year, if all goes well on the upcoming mission.
NASA loaded the Dragon with non-essential items such as clothing, food, computers and science experiments. The capsule is designed to return to Earth with a full load as well, something none of the other visiting cargo ships — from Russia, Europe and Japan — can do. NASA says by bringing back old equipment, money can be saved by refurbishing the pieces and launching them back up, rather than buying new replacements.
By retiring the space shuttles last year, NASA wanted to focus on getting astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, possibly asteroids and ultimately Mars.