A rocket designed and built by a privately-owned company has successfully blasted off on a historic mission to deliver a supply capsule to the International Space Station.
Television cameras captured the apparently flawless launch of the Dragon space capsule atop Space X's Falcon-9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida Tuesday morning in the pre-dawn hours.
“T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero. And, launch of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket as NASA turns to the private sector to resupply the ISS.”
Space X mission controllers were seen cheering and exchanging hugs when it was confirmed the capsule and rocket had successfully reached orbit and its solar panels had deployed.
The rocket was about to blast off Saturday when the launch was aborted at the last half-second. Space X says computers detected slightly high pressure inside the central engine of its Falcon 9 rocket. Engineers traced the problem to a faulty valve that has now been replaced.
The Dragon capsule is expected to reach the ISS by Thursday and will be sent through a series of maneuvers before it docks with the orbital outpost on Friday. The six-member crew of the space station will then spend the next two weeks unloading over 500 kilograms of supplies from the capsule.
The reusable Dragon capsule will then return to Earth with used equipment.
Space X is attempting to become the first privately-owned company to launch a spacecraft to the ISS. The U.S. space agency NASA is hoping that Space X and other commercial enterprises will be able to replace the retired space shuttle fleet to ferry cargo and, eventually, astronauts to the ISS.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told reporters at Cape Canaveral that Tuesday's launch ushers in a new era space flight for both the space agency and the United States.
“It's a great day for America…it's actually a great day for the world, because, you know, there are people who thought that we had gone away, and today says no, we have not gone away at all. We've got the Dragon, the Space X NASA team that came through this morning with flying colors. And I hope everybody celebrates that for what it is.”
Russia's Soyuz spacecraft is the only vehicle currently able to send astronauts to the space station.
White House science and technology advisor John Holdren issued a statement saying that turning over the job of ferrying cargo and crew to the ISS to private industry will allow NASA to focus on manned missions beyond low Earth orbit.