Hopes for new private initiatives in manned space flight are reaching new heights following SpaceX’s successful launch of its Dragon capsule into low Earth orbit. The launch of the Dragon on May 22 was the beginning of SpaceX’s first mission to the International Space Station (ISS), fulfilling a job for NASA that the space agency no longer has the capacity to conduct on its own: Reach the space station it helped to build.
Following the launch, the palpable exuberance of the company’s CEO — Paypal-founder Elon Musk — filled the company’s official press release:
At a press conference held after the launch, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk began, “I would like to start off by saying what a tremendous honor it has been to work with NASA. And to acknowledge the fact that we could not have started SpaceX, nor could we have reached this point without the help of NASA.... It’s really been an honor to work with such great people.”
The vehicle’s first stage performed nominally before separating from the second stage. The second stage successfully delivered the Dragon spacecraft into its intended orbit. This marks the third consecutive successful Falcon 9 launch and the fifth straight launch success for SpaceX. “We obviously have to go through a number of steps to berth with the Space Station, but everything is looking really good and I think I would count today as a success no matter what happens with the rest of the mission,” Musk said.
Since the final flight of NASA’s space shuttle last year, the American space agency has lacked a means for sending astronauts and supplies to the ISS that did not involve relying on the Russia Soyuz capsules.
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Photo of Dragon capsule: AP Images