SpaceX finally launches rocket, makes history

May 22, 2012

SpaceX finally launched its rocket Tuesday morning, making a mark for itself in spaceflight history, the Associated Press reports :

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.

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.”

Although the launch was a success, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said there is still a lot of work to do, The Post’s Emi Kolawale :

Members of NASA and SpaceX staff convened for a press conference Tuesday morning, including William Gerstenmaier, Alan Lindenmoyer, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell and SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.

Lindenmoyer is the manager for Commercial Crew & Cargo Program at NASA, while Gerstenmaier is the associate administrator, human explorations and operations, also at NASA.

Both Lindenmoyer and Gerstenmaier had glowing praise for the SpaceX team, while Shotwell and Musk started the press conference with thanks to the SpaceX staff, NASA, the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We do have a lot of work left to do,” continued Shotwell, “and we’ll keep everybody informed as to the progress.”

“We could not have started SpaceX nor could we have reached this point without the help of NASA,” said Musk, who also expressed appreciation for the SpaceX staff and partners. “It’s great when you’ve given every ounce that you have to see it come to fruition in this way.”

“I would really count today as a success no matter what happens for the rest of the mission,” he added.

Asked how he felt during the launch, aside from what he expressed over Twitter, Musk said, “every bit of adrenaline in my body released at that point. It’s obviously an extremely intense moment. The main thing I was wondering was would we have a valve-related issue on launch and would the first stage perform nominally. But it actually worked perfectly. So, I was really glad to see that. ... I feel very lucky.”

Musk went on to compare the moment with winning the Super Bowl.

As for the naysayers of commercial spaceflight, Musk said, “I hope that the success of this mission thus far at least...will dispel some of the doubts that people have.”

An analyst from KeyBanc Capital Markets said if the mission goes well, that should help ease some concerns. Bloomberg reports :

A successful mission may ease concern that turning the space program over to the private sector is too risky, according to Michael Ciarmoli, an analyst with Cleveland-based KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc. The federal government retired its own shuttle fleet last year and wants U.S. companies to take over the job of servicing the space station.

It would show that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration “is making the wise investment in private- or commercial-based space companies,” Ciarmoli said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Today’s liftoff followed a planned May 19 launch that was called off with a half second left in the countdown. The problem was traced to a faulty engine valve.

Musk, 40, was monitoring today’s flight from mission control at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, company spokeswoman Kirstin Brost Grantham said in an e-mail yesterday. NASA streamed the liftoff live on its website.

At a NASA press conference after the launch, Musk said he had been concerned about another valve problem surfacing. With the liftoff, “every bit of adrenaline in my body released,” he said.

“It was tremendous elation,” he said. “For us, it’s like winning the Super Bowl.”

The white two-stage rocket cleared its tower in a predawn liftoff. A video feed showed SpaceX employees clapping, cheering and hugging when the Dragon capsule separated from the rocket and went into orbit on schedule, 10 minutes into the flight.

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