SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carried an unmanned Dragon capsule into space after a 3:44 a.m. EDT launch, as scheduled, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On Saturday, the launch was aborted at the very last second, with only one second left for the countdown, and after the Falcon 9 booster's engines had been ignited.
Although the Dragon 9 capsule is carrying useful cargo for the ISS (1,150 pounds of cargo, to be exact), this is still considered a test flight for SpaceX. The capsule will also be loaded for the return flight from the ISS, will return to Earth with a payload of 1,455-pounds.
NASA called it the beginning of a new era. In a speech at Cape Canaveral, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, "Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start. We're at the dawn of a new era in space exploration. There are no precedents for what we're doing here."
Separately, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said "There's so much hope riding on that rocket. When it worked ... and they saw their handiwork in space and operating as it should, there was tremendous elation. For us, it's like winning the Super Bowl." Musk spoke at SpaceX company headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. where SpaceX employees had gathered to watch and cheer as the Falcon 9 reached for the stars.
In addition to the launch, SpaceX has continued to perform. SpaceX spokesperson Kirstin Brost Grantham said in an email that the Dragon capsule has successfully separated from the Falcon 9 booster rocket and that its solar arrays have successfully deployed.
A successful test mission would lead to a contract with NASA that would pay SpaceX $1.6 billion for a dozen cargo flights to the ISS. That said, NASA has already spent nearly $400 million in seed money for SpaceX, hoping that the company can someday take the lead for routine missions to the International Space Station. Currently, for every mission that the Russians complete using their Soyuz spacecraft, NASA has to give them $63 million.
Watch the SpaceX Launch below.
Image Source Wikimedia Commons