SpaceX docks with International Space Station: Up next, public travel?

(CBS News) There was a milestone in space today when a private, unmanned spacecraft owned and operated by an American company docked with the International Space Station.

The capsule is called Dragon by its owner the SpaceX company of California. This is the future since the space shuttle stopped flying last July. The Obama administration turned the shuttle's missions over to private industry.

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SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly the Dragon on 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the station.

But, SpaceX is just getting started. When CBS News visited their factory recently for "60 Minutes," they were busy measuring a Dragon capsule for seats.

The Dragon, Space-X's capsule, docks with the International Space Station on May 25, 2012.
CBS News
Knuckles were white at the SpaceX mission control center as the robot arm reached out to the capsule. Then, there was euphoria.

The factory outside Los Angeles has 18,000 employees. They build everything from the engines to the rockets to the capsule. The company was launched by Elon Musk, the billionaire co-founder of Paypal.

Dragon can hold seven seats. Garrett Reisman has flown on the Space Shuttle and Space Station for NASA. Now he works for SpaceX.

"If you had a chance to go back in time and work with Howard Hughes when he was creating TWA, if you had a chance to be there at that moment... (to) get in on the ground floor at the beginning of, the dawn of a brand new era, wouldn't you want to do that? I mean, that's why I'm here," Reisman told CBS News.

There are half a dozen private companies competing in a NASA program to develop a manned ship. SpaceX hopes today's docking puts them in the lead.

"Really it's not that big of a leap, to be honest with you," Reisman explained. "We need to make a big leap in safety. We have to make sure that when we put people in there that is absolutely the safest it could be. And I am a big believer that this vehicle will be ten times safer than any spacecraft anybody's every strapped into, that that we will get there."

Fifty years from now, Reisman hopes that people will see this time as the "golden age of space."

"What I'm hoping they say was... this was the point in time where we really figured out how to make this all work, how to make it cost effective and where we made the really true first giant leap in safety and cost effectiveness that allows a commercial space flight infrastructure," he said.

Reisman believes that this could also mean the beginning of space lines. "Like airlines, but for space. Yeah, I'm hoping this is the beginning of that," he said

SpaceX hopes to fly its first private crew in 2015. As luck would have it, today SpaceX event coincides with the 51st anniversary of President Kennedy's speech that set the goal of reaching the moon.

  • Scott Pelley

    Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News;" Correspondent, "60 Minutes"

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