SpaceX private rocket blasts off for space station (Update)

May 22, 2012 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket stands on space launch complex 40 ready for another launch attempt at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, May 21, 2012. After an aborted attempt with a half-second remaining before liftoff last Saturday, SpaceX is set to launch early on Tuesday, May 22. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

A first-of-its-kind commercial supply ship rocketed toward the International Space Station following a successful liftoff early Tuesday, opening a new era of dollar-driven spaceflight.

The SpaceX company made history as its Falcon 9 rocket rose from its seaside launch pad and pierced the pre-dawn sky, aiming for a rendezvous in a few days with the space station. The unmanned rocket carried into orbit a capsule named Dragon that is packed with 1,000 pounds of space station provisions.

It is the first time a private company has launched a vessel to the space station. Before, that was something only major governments had done.

"Falcon flew perfectly!!" SpaceX's billionaire founder, Elon Musk, said via Twitter. "Dragon in orbit ... Feels like a giant weight just came off my back."

Musk later told reporters: "I feel very lucky ... For us, it's like winning the Super Bowl."

This time, the Falcon's nine engines kept firing all the way through liftoff. On Saturday, flight computers aborted the launch with a half-second remaining in the countdown; a bad engine valve was replaced.

Key facts about SpaceX

The White House quickly 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."

Flight controllers applauded when the Dragon reached orbit nine minutes into the flight, then embraced one another once the solar panels on the spacecraft popped open. Many of the SpaceX controllers wore untucked T-shirts and jeans or even shorts, a stark contrast to NASA's old suit-and-tie shuttle crowd.

The hopes of SpaceX employees were riding on that rocket, Musk noted, and everyone felt "tremendous elation."

So did NASA.

The space agency is banking on the switch from government to commercial cargo providers in the U.S., now that the shuttles no longer are flying. Astronauts could begin taking commercial rides to the space station in three to five years, if all goes well.

"The significance of this day cannot be overstated," said a beaming NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "It's a great day for America. It's actually a great day for the world because there are people who thought that we had gone away, and today says, `No, we're not going away at all.'"

The real test comes Thursday when the Dragon reaches the vicinity of the space station. It will undergo practice maneuvers from more than a mile out. If all goes well, the docking will occur Friday. Musk will preside over the operation from the company's Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., where he monitored the liftoff.

The space station was zooming over the North Atlantic, just east of Newfoundland, when the Falcon took flight.

NASA is looking to the private sector to take over orbital trips in this post-shuttle period and several U.S. companies are vying for the opportunity. The goal is to get American astronauts launching again from U.S. soil - creating jobs at home and halting the outsourcing, as Bolden put it.

Until their retirement last summer to museums, NASA's shuttles provided the bulk of space station equipment and even the occasional crew member. American astronauts are riding Russian rockets to orbit until SpaceX or one of its competitors takes over the job. Russia also is making periodic cargo hauls, along with Europe and Japan.

Musk, a co-creator of PayPal, founded SpaceX a decade ago. He's poured millions of his own money into the company, and NASA has contributed $381 million as seed money. In all, the company has spent more than $1 billion on the effort.

Hundreds of SpaceX and NASA guests poured into the launching area in the early morning hours Tuesday, eager to see firsthand the start of this new commercial era. The company had a single second to get its rocket flying, and that's all it needed.

Everyone, it seemed, was rooting for a successful flight - even Musk's rivals.

"The shuttle may be retired, but the American dream of space exploration is alive and well," said Mark Sirangelo, chairman of Sierra Nevada Corp.'s space systems, which is developing a mini-shuttle to carry space station crews in another few years.

The six space station astronauts were especially enthusiastic. The crew beamed down a picture on the eve of the launch, showing the two who will use a robot arm to snare the Dragon.

In December 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and retrieve it. That test flight of a Dragon capsule paved the way for this mission, which also is meant to culminate with a splashdown of the capsule in the Pacific.

This newest capsule is supposed to remain at the space station for a week before bringing back experiments and equipment. None of the other types of current cargo ships can return safely; they burn up on the way down.

SpaceX and NASA officials stress this is a demonstration flight and that even if something goes wrong, much can be learned. Two more Dragon supply missions are planned this year, regardless of what happens during this week's rendezvous.

While acknowledging the difficult course ahead in the next few days, Musk and NASA officials savored Tuesday's triumph.

"I would really count today as a success, no matter what happens the rest of the mission," Musk said.

Musk, 40, is the chief executive officer and chief designer for SpaceX. He also runs Tesla Motors, his electric car company.

Hitching a ride into space, aboard the discarded second stage of the rocket, were the ashes of more than 300 people, including Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper and "Star Trek" actor James Doohan, who played Scotty. It's a redo flight for a paying customer, Houston-based Celestis Inc. The Falcon 1 that carried the first batch of their ashes failed in 2008.

Explore further: Lunar explorers will walk at higher speeds than thought

More information: SpaceX: http://www.spacex.com
NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/c3po/home/

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User comments : 42

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gmurphy
3.9 / 5 (14) May 22, 2012
Excellent!, this is a real turning point for space travel, I'm really impressed by the magnitude of the savings they've achieved when compared to exiting governmental organisations, go capitalism!
DrMordrid
4.9 / 5 (13) May 22, 2012
What a gorgeous launch!! Dragon in orbit, wings deployed.

Next stop: ISS.
ShotmanMaslo
3.6 / 5 (14) May 22, 2012
Awesome! Congrats SpaceX!
SleepTech
3.9 / 5 (7) May 22, 2012
Launch was OKAY. I'm a huge fan of nighttime rocket launches because they light up the whole night sky as if it were daytime for a few seconds. The Dragon launch was bright, but nowhere near as overwhelming as a NASA rocket. But, that's probably because of more up-to-date engineering and efficiency (as well different fuel) so in my mind, even though it's not as glamorous, it's certainly progress.
jmcanoy1860
1.6 / 5 (17) May 22, 2012
On the 10 point scale this launch was mediocre at best. Sure, she nailed the take-off and landing but her form was sOOOooo blase'. Prior competitors utilized the oft touted roll as well as the extra bright fuel burn for that extra je ne sais quio. No style. No grace.

5/10
CardacianNeverid
4.4 / 5 (7) May 22, 2012
That's good work boys.
MrGrynch
2.8 / 5 (11) May 22, 2012
I had a chance to watch a space shuttle launch at night once. It was amazing. I was very sad to see the program end. I was even sadder to see the VentureStar program scrapped. I agree, however, that the commercial sector is the way to move forward with space travel and exploration. Way to go SpaceX!
askantik
3.6 / 5 (9) May 22, 2012
To the troll who is raving about how perfect capitalism is, it helps to read:

"...NASA has contributed $381 million as seed money."
CapitalismPrevails
1.8 / 5 (15) May 22, 2012
This is historical. Now the private sector will show effectiveness in starch contrast to the public sector.
islatas
5 / 5 (4) May 22, 2012
I got up early to watch it stream live on NASA TV. I watched the attempt on Saturday too so it was especially nice to know I'll get to sleep through the night tonight.

I loved watching the reactions of those on the control rooms. Witnessing that pure joy and pride made the wait completely worth it. Congratulations!
islatas
5 / 5 (1) May 22, 2012
A comment on the article. Is the following quote correct? I could have sworn Soyuz capsules (used for cargo all the time) routinely re-enter without a problem...not to mention they are the emergency escape pods on the ISS, correct?

"This newest capsule is supposed to remain at the space station for a week before bringing back experiments and equipment. None of the other types of current cargo ships can return safely; they burn up on the way down."

BikeToAustralia
3.4 / 5 (5) May 22, 2012
"Musk, a co-creator of PayPal, founded SpaceX a decade ago. He's poured millions of his own money into the company, and NASA has contributed $381 million as seed money. In all, the company has spent more than $1 billion on the effort."

How much money was spent is almost irrelevant compared to hope gained for the future. Money is a symbol of work done, 'man-hours'. Work done is in the past. Hope is for what the future holds. And yet, both the past and the future are beyond our grasp, illusions even.

Kudos to you Elon Musk. The sacrifices you made, make and will make make you priceless. Commercial, privitized space travel is a miracle. Paypal and the Tesla demonstrate your amazing potential (or 'luck').

I grew up reading others dreams of people living in space. I hope to live long enough to see those dreams become reality.
gopher65
5 / 5 (6) May 22, 2012
A comment on the article. Is the following quote correct? I could have sworn Soyuz capsules (used for cargo all the time) routinely re-enter without a problem...not to mention they are the emergency escape pods on the ISS, correct?

Soyuz have very little cargo return capacity. They're used almost exclusively for human transport. What you're thinking of is the Soyuz derived automated Progress cargo vehicle. Unfortunately the Progress is *not* designed to return to Earth, and instead burns up while reentering the atmosphere. As do the Japanese and European automated cargo vehicles.

Right now there is no way to get most of the experiments down from the Station. Only the shuttle could do that. And, assuming this mission goes well, the Dragon as well:).
Xbw
1 / 5 (5) May 22, 2012
Man's ambition to grow beyond his perceived boundaries never ceases to amaze me. Way to go SpaceX and here's to a real future in space exploration.
javjav
3 / 5 (2) May 22, 2012
They still depend on inflated contracts from NASA. I think it can not be a true (profitable) private business without the help of public funds until they find a way to recover the rocket first stage (ideally second stage also, but optional). But I am not negative, I bet somebody will solve it.
islatas
5 / 5 (2) May 22, 2012
@gopher65

Thanks!
Sonhouse
1 / 5 (1) May 22, 2012
Has it actually docked with the ISS yet? If not, it might be a bit premie to break out the champagne.
SteveL
5 / 5 (9) May 22, 2012
On the 10 point scale this launch was mediocre at best. Sure, she nailed the take-off and landing but her form was sOOOooo blase'. Prior competitors utilized the oft touted roll as well as the extra bright fuel burn for that extra je ne sais quio. No style. No grace.

5/10

Incredible as it may seem; impressing you was not on their list of goals to accomplish with this launch.
SteveL
4 / 5 (3) May 22, 2012
I'm happy to hear that what's left of James Doohan finally made it into space as was his dream.
Mike_Massen
2 / 5 (8) May 22, 2012
Congratulations to SpaceX, an efficient design and it only costs $200,000 to fuel the rocket to get a cargo into orbit and then reach the ISS, hope all goes well for Friday when they dock.
Cheers
MandoZink
3.7 / 5 (3) May 22, 2012
What you're thinking of is the Soyuz derived automated Progress cargo vehicle

The Progress automated docking module has had an incredible record of reliability. I was glad to see the level of confidence the ISS participants had in it early on. I hope we soon attain that level of confidence in our private manned transport vehicles.
Vendicar_Decarian
1.3 / 5 (12) May 22, 2012
Delusional.

"this is a real turning point for space travel" - qmerphy
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (12) May 22, 2012
SpaceX isn't interested in space exploration unless it's on a government dime.

"Way to go SpaceX and here's to a real future in space exploration." - Mindless

Delusional.
Vendicar_Decarian
1.3 / 5 (12) May 22, 2012
Only to the truly delusional.

"This is historical." - CapitalismFails

It is amazing how easily Americans fall for Claptrap nonsense.

SpaceX is no different than any other NASA contractor.

travisr
5 / 5 (4) May 22, 2012
All three of your last comments sounded like religion rather than fact. Look at all those belief statements. People often misperceive facts being linked with certain causation. They see facts, and then because of neurological hardwiring automatically grasp at a particular causation because to them it can be no other answer.

You must be really terrible at understanding science, and certainly not qualified to perform any. I see you live in Texas, so do I. Lets go have a beer sometime and hash this out.
CapitalismPrevails
3 / 5 (10) May 22, 2012

SpaceX is no different than any other NASA contractor.

Except this contractor is fulfilling a mission rather than a sub job of a mission. That would make it historical.

I bring order to chaos. The only good Libertarian is a dead Libertarian.

http://phys.org/p...ecarian/
LMAO, sounds like a good ol statist to me.
DavidW
1 / 5 (5) May 22, 2012
Only to the truly delusional.

I agree that Vendicar_Decarian went a little far and should have taken the time to present any truthful evidence he has and allow others the opportunity to debate the specific points, as he brought it up.
Delusional is a sickness that many have at this time. Sometimes we don't do as well as we would have hoped. If we are going to explain to people that their view is incorrect, we want to be truthful. The highest form of love is compassion. Compassion is truth manifest. Using the truth in a spiteful manner is actually delusional, because spitefully using truth against the sick is not truthful. There may be some truth in the words, but we are not behaving truthful in a spiteful time of throwing rocks at the sick and have lost our way and are sick ourselves. Medicine for the sick and containment for those that are dangerously sick until such time they are healed. They need a cure just as we need cures when we get sick.
DavidW
1 / 5 (4) May 22, 2012
You must be...

Travisr also stepped away from the truth when he attempted to define another person. Only the truth can do that correctly. It is important to try our best to stay truthful when we over react to another not being truthful.
If we are not trying to do the most good then there is no point in doing it. You are both very important because the truth says you are and for no other reason.
Deathclock
2.3 / 5 (9) May 23, 2012
A momentous occasion and truly a vindication of Capitalism. No other nation, state, or government in the history of the world has been able to foster an atmosphere that would allow for such a tremendous undertaking by the private sector. This just goes to show that when left to it's devices Capitalism can promote and provide the means for people with good ideas, no matter how large or small, to make them reality.
DrMordrid
5 / 5 (2) May 23, 2012
A comment on the article. Is the following quote correct? I could have sworn Soyuz capsules (used for cargo all the time) routinely re-enter without a problem...not to mention they are the emergency escape pods on the ISS, correct?
>
>


Soyuz is a crew spacecraft, not a cargo spacecraft. Its cargo capability is very limited.

The current batch of cargo spacecraft going to ISS are Progress (a non-crew Soyuz), ATV (Europe) and HTV (Japan), all of which are one-way and burn up on re-entry. The Orbital Cygnus, another COTS commercial cargo carrier, is also one-way and has not flown yet. Its debut flight has been delayed until late this year.

Dragon will be the only cargo carrier to have down-mass capability, up to 3 metric tons of it, and it is also to be evolved into DragonRider - a crew spacecraft that can transport up to 7 passengers, or a mix of cargo and crew, and touch down on either land or water. Landings will eventually be propulsive using rocket thrusters.
Vendicar_Decarian
2.1 / 5 (9) May 23, 2012
Designed with Government money, from Government developed technology, launched from a government run launch pad, carrying government supplies, to a government built space station.

Private enterprise? Ahahahahaha Absolutely delusional.

"A momentous occasion and truly a vindication of Capitalism." - DeathTard

Oh, man you can't get more delusional than that.

Ahahahahahahah... What a moron.
ShotmanMaslo
3 / 5 (8) May 23, 2012
Let's be clear: SpaceX is the first private company to completely and INDEPENDENTLY self design and self build and launch a man capable, orbital rocket from the ground up without the initial sponsorship of NASA or a government agency.

THAT'S what makes them different.
No other private company has ever done that.

I'm getting a little tired of people saying other "private companies" built all our other rockets. NO.

While other private companies "built" ( actually mostly subcontracted) rockets, SpaceX is like the guy who went into his garage all alone when no one was looking or paying him and independently came out with a complete revolutionary car while the others are like guys who got fat contracts from the government to build cars before they even started.

Also, if you read some interviews with Elon Musk, you learn that money is not his primary motivation, unlike other companies. He genuinely cares about the future of manned spaceflight, and wants to retire to Mars.
RETT
4 / 5 (4) May 23, 2012
People seem to forget that the billion dollars includes the development of two major rocket engines, and an escape/navigational engine plus the dragon capsule itself, not to mention two complete launch facilities and part of a third, plus all the manufacturing facilities and a full blown test and engine development facility. All of that has been done for less than what the gov pays each year for one "heavy-lift" vehicle from one of the current clowns. If Musk had one of those cost-plus contracts, he'd be able to run one of the richest IPO's of all time.

And, there will be no heavy-lift vehicle from NASA; they won't have the budget for it. Musk will again come to the rescue with the F9 Heavy, capable of putting anything we actually need into space.
Standing Bear
1 / 5 (5) May 23, 2012
To quote a line from the movie: "Jurassic Park"....'You stood on the shoulders of giants, and took the next step..!' Most of this tech WAS originally researched and some actually made by government scientists, many of whom work or worked for Mr Musk in his 'private' endeavor. Of course the government research that went into this, and the government workers now working for this whe gave their ideas formed over decades of experience...will now become part of a body of 'original intellectuoooal property' to be sued over for the next hundred yearsssss by press gangs of lawyers and bean counters (like Steve Jobs the thief of the 'Woz's Apple computer) who contributed nothing but will steal it all.
Standing Bear
1 / 5 (4) May 23, 2012
A little closer to home, this Falcon9 IS like Buzz Aldrin's 'StarCORE' that he wrote about in a book many years ago. A 'big dumb booster' that is expendable and cheap, and one that can be combined like the proposed F9-heavy to do bigger jobs and reduce access to space cost further. Cost is the bottom line in space for both governmental and private actors. Of course the space elevator would be the ultimate cost reduction. But then so would a hydrino rocket/one stage to space shuttle. Musk's people are to be commended on bringing again American know how to do a job. Just hope he does not sell out to the Chinese. Private individual! He could, you know.
Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (5) May 23, 2012
I'm happy to hear that what's left of James Doohan finally made it into space as was his dream.


So would that be a wet dream? A dry dream? A dead dream? or a vacuous dream?
Maat
1.6 / 5 (7) May 23, 2012
Vendicar, you could learn a lot from ShotmanMaslo. This was the first time a space craft designed, built, and launched by a private entity was put into orbit around the Earth. No economic system other than capitalism could have made this possible. Capitalism provides the incentive to take such risks, in the form of potential for profit. You don't think SpaceX is going to be servicing the ISS or placing satellites in orbit for free do you? No, they will be paid, and eventually they will turn a profit, and if that wasn't possible then their would have been no incentive to do any of this.

This is nothing new, most of your modern life can be attributed to capitalist profit motivation. Do you think drug companies would spend billions on research and development if they couldn't charge a fair price for the medicine the develop? If it wasn't for capitalism you wouldn't have most of the things that exist today.
Blakut
1 / 5 (1) May 24, 2012
Vendicar: Capitalism Fails? Hmm... maybe, but until then i want to get rich. So you may want to buy some stocks with a profitable space company.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (6) May 24, 2012
ShotmanMaslo is likely suffering a paroxysm of romantic illusion

Let's be clear: SpaceX is the first private company to completely and INDEPENDENTLY self design and self build and launch a man capable, orbital rocket from the ground up without the initial sponsorship of NASA..

No way, they're not that dumb, romantic or lack good sense.

Do you think NASA's management would be ok to risk a billion & leave it all up to a startup with negligible history & minimal finance in aerospace terms ? Not at all !

NASA laid long term groundwork; combinatorial experience, various research, data & design permutations of *decades* is part of the contractual mix under appropriate performance criteria (under confidentiality), it contributes to the success of the venture !

SpaceX has one or more ex NASA people but that's not enough, its the gestalt; research data, post mortems & decades of knowledge (also of what not to do) which is drawn upon directly to save time experimenting.

Sensible :-)
Vendicar_Decarian
2 / 5 (4) May 24, 2012
ClapTrap

"This was the first time a space craft designed, built, and launched by a private entity was put into orbit around the Earth." - Maat

This craft's lineage can be traced back to government funded research preformed by the NAZI's.

SpaceX couldn't even begin to compute the aerodynamic aspects of the launch without the detailed atmospheric analysis that has been performed for them by Government.

Similarly the metallurgical demands of the flight have also been provided by government research, as was he underlying flight control systems, navigation, etc. etc. etc.

Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (2) May 24, 2012
Then you are a worthless fool.

"until then i want to get rich." - Blakut

"So you may want to buy some stocks with a profitable space company." - Blakut

You must be referring to McDonald Douglas.
MandoZink
not rated yet May 26, 2012
NASA budget for all projects - 0.5%
Military budget - 20%

One year's military budget would fund NASA for 40 years.

Please watch Neil deGrasse Tyson's keynote speech last month to the 28th National Space Symposium. It is rational, inspirational and the embodiment of common sense.

http://www.youtub...embedded