Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 private rocket is a success
Saturday, June 5, 2010
The Falcon 9, the first of a new generation of private rockets that could one day make space travel commonplace, successfully launched from Cape Canaveral on Friday.
The 180-foot rocket put a model of its Dragon capsule into orbit about 160 miles up, setting the stage for possible flights to the international space station early next year. The flight came after an initial abort right at ignition.
The launch gives a major boost to the rocket's builder, SpaceX, and its Internet-tycoon founder, Elon Musk. But the launch was almost as important to the Obama administration, which has proposed a far greater role for commercial space companies in the future of NASA.
After Friday's successful test launch -- unusual for a maiden voyage -- SpaceX plans to send a fully operational rocket and capsule into orbit this summer, and one to the space station next year.
Obama's plan to cancel much of the Bush-era Constellation exploration system -- calling it too expensive and behind schedule -- has received an often-hostile reaction in Congress. Members of Congress whose states might lose jobs, along with veteran astronauts such as Neil Armstrong, have warned that NASA would cede its edge in space if commercial companies played a larger role in exploration.
Obama went to the Kennedy Space Center last month to outline a NASA human exploration program, which includes crew and cargo transport to the international space station by commercial rockets in the years ahead, freeing up NASA for deep-space missions to asteroids, the moon and, ultimately, Mars.
The congratulations quickly began flowing in after Friday's launch. NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. said in a statement that SpaceX's "accomplishment is an important milestone in the commercial transportation effort, and puts the company a step closer to providing cargo services to the International Space Station."
The Planetary Society, an advocate for commercial space ventures, also said in a release: "The proposal to refocus NASA's human spaceflight program beyond low-Earth orbit now looks more achievable, as this flight demonstrated that commercial rockets may soon be ready to carry supplies and, we hope, astronauts to the International Space Station."
While NASA rockets have long been built by private industry under NASA control, the SpaceX Falcon 9 is more fully private and considerably less expensive. Although SpaceX is the leader now in commercial space efforts with NASA, larger companies -- including Boeing and Lockheed Martin -- are expected to join in the future.