SpaceX Dragon capsule launched to space station
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX — owned by PayPal co-founder Musk — is working to convert its unmanned Dragon capsules into vessels that could carry astronauts to the space station in three years. Other U.S. companies also are vying to carry crews. Americans must ride Russian rockets to orbit in the meantime, for a steep price.
Musk, who monitored the launch from SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., called the capsules Dragon after the magical Puff to get back at critics who, a decade ago, considered his effort a fantasy. The name Falcon comes from the Millennium Falcon starship of "Star Wars" fame.
An estimated 2,400 guests jammed the launching center to see the Falcon, with its Dragon, come to life for SpaceX's first official, operational supply mission.
Across the country at SpaceX headquarters, about 1,000 employees watched via TV and webcast.
It was no apparition.
"Just over a year after the retirement of the space shuttle, we have returned space station cargo resupply missions to U.S. soil," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr.
SpaceX is shooting for its next supply run in January.
Another company looking to haul space station cargo, Virginia's Orbital Sciences Corp., hopes to launch a solo test flight in December and a demo mission to the station early next year.
Every time SpaceX or a competitor flies successfully, Bolden told reporters, "that gives the nonbelievers one more opportunity to get on board and root for us" and help enable commercial launches for space station astronauts. This will further free NASA up to aim for points beyond low-Earth orbit, like Mars.
"This was a big night," Bolden concluded.
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