Fresh Private Space Capsule Passes Big Drop Test new private spacecraft designed to carry supply to the International Space Station has passed a foremost milestone a high-altitude drop to its parachutes and ocean splashdown. The Dragon space capsule build by Hawthorne, Calif. based Space Exploration Technologies survive the Aug. 12 test fall from 14,000 feet (4,240 meters), SpaceX officials have announced. The drop marked the last in a series of tests to authenticate Dragon's parachute and splashdown systems before the spacecraft's maiden launch on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, which is predictable later this year. While SpaceX at present plans to use unmanned Dragon capsules to the space station for cargo deliveries, the company said the drop tested systems that could be use for crewed Dragon vehicles as well.

"By holding the Dragon to severe standards for manned missions from the start, tests like this will ensure the highest quality and dependability for Dragon over the long term," said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the millionaire co-founder of the Internet payment system PayPal, in a statement. "We are prove, every day, that the prospect of American missions to space will rely on American-made commercial companies." SpaceX launch its first Falcon 9 rocket in June from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in a successful experiment flight of the two-stage booster. It is graphic shows a comparison of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to Russia's Soyuz vehicles and NASA's space shuttles.

NASA currently plans to rely on American-built commercial spacecraft, when they become available, to ferry provisions and astronauts into low-Earth orbit after its space shuttle fleet retire next year. The space agency's plans to fly two more planned shuttled missions to complete construction of the International Space Station. The addition of a third shuttle mission is under discussion in assembly. Once the shuttles retire, NASA will use Russian, European and Japanese spacecraft to send supplies and astronauts to the station until profitable American vehicles are available.

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