SpaceX joins government in outer space

Nickalas Tabbert

History was made Tuesday after the first private rocket was launched into outer space. 

Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, launced its Falcon 9 rocket early Tuesday morning, marking the first time a private company had ever launched a vessel to the space station.  The rocket carried into orbit a capsule named Dragon that contains over 1,000 pounds of space station supplies.

“Falcon flew perfectly!!” SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, said on Twitter. 

He said the successful launch “feels like a giant weight just came off my back.”

Dragon will reach the space station’s orbit in roughly one day.  It will then spend another day practicing maneuvers and testing its communications systems and navigation aids, Reuters said.  NASA could allow Dragon to dock at the space station by Friday if everything goes to plan.

NASA is relying on companies like SpaceX to take over the task of flying cargo – and eventually astronauts – to the $100 billion space station, which orbits about 240 miles above Earth.

Currently, NASA is dependent on Russia to fly the crew to the station, at a cost of more than $60 million per person.  Russia, Europe and Japan also fly cargo to the station.  There are four firms, including SpaceX, trying to build space taxis to fly astronauts, tourists and non-NASA researchers.

NASA contributed nearly $400 million to SpaceX’s $1.2 billion commercial space program, which includes development and up to three test flights of Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules, the article said.

Originally scheduled to launch last Saturday, flight computers aborted the launch with a half-second remaining in the countdown, the Washington Post said.  A bad engine valve was replaced.

The White House offered congratulations.

“Every launch into space is a thrilling event, but this one is especially exciting,” said John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser.  “This expanded role for the private sector will free up more of NASA’s resources to do what NASA does best – tackle the most demanding technological challenges in space, including those of human space flight beyond low Earth orbit.”

Musk later said he feels lucky and that for him, the launch is like winning the Super Bowl.

“I would really count today as a success no matter what happens for the rest of the mission,” he said.