CAPE CANAVERAL (AP) — A multimillionaire's test rocket blasted off on its maiden voyage June 4 and successfully reached orbit in a dry run for NASA's push to go commercial.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket achieved Earth orbit nine minutes into the flight as planned, drawing praise from NASA, the White House and others eager for the company to start resupplying the International Space Station.
“This has really been a fantastic day,” said an exuberant Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder. He said the launch helps vindicate President Barack Obama's plan to give private companies the job of ferrying cargo and ultimately people to the space station, freeing up NASA to aim for true outer space.
“This bodes very well for the Obama plan,” said Musk, the South African-born co-founder of PayPal. “It shows that even a sort of small new company like SpaceX can make a real difference.”
In a telephone news conference, Musk said celebratory margaritas were on his immediate radar. But he's already looking ahead to the next Falcon 9 launch this summer and, hopefully, the first cargo run to the space station next year.
Astronauts could follow within three years of the company getting a contract from NASA, he said, and quite possibly average citizens in five to six years.
“This is the dawn of a new era in space exploration, I think a very exciting era and one which I think will lead to the democratization of space, making space accessible to everyone eventually,” Musk said. “Yeah, I think this is really a historic moment.”
SpaceX's brand new rocket soared off its launch pad into thin clouds at mid-afternoon, carrying a test version of the company's spacecraft, named Dragon. The goal was to put the capsule into a 155-mile-high orbit, which it did. The capsule will remain in orbit for a year before descending and burning up in the atmosphere.
“A near bull's-eye,” Musk said.
The first attempt to launch the 158-foot rocket was aborted in the final few seconds earlier in the afternoon because of questionable readings with the engine-ignition system.
NASA hopes to use the Falcon-Dragon combo for hauling supplies and possibly astronauts to the space station, once the shuttles retire later this year or early next.
Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX — or Space Exploration Technologies — is one of several companies vying for NASA's business. It was founded eight years ago by Musk, who is 38.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called the June 4 launch “an important milestone in the commercial transportation effort” and said it puts the company a step closer to supplying the space station.
And the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy shot out this tweet: “what a show!”
“My e-mail box has gone bonkers,” Musk said, “and my phone has been ringing off the hook.”
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PHOTO COURTESY OF SPACEX.COM. The SpaceX Falcon 9 test rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, June 4.