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A commercial rocket blasted off early Tuesday with a load of supplies for the International Space Station, 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 later this week with the space station. The 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. That's something only major governments have done -- until the present test flight. Launch controllers applauded when the Dragon reached orbit 9 minutes into the flight.
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 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.
The space station was zooming over the North Atlantic, just east of
NASA is looking to the private sector to take over orbital trips in this post-shuttle period; several
Until their retirement last summer, NASA's shuttles provided the bulk of space station equipment and even the occasional crew member. American astronauts are stuck riding Russian rockets to orbit until SpaceX or one of its competitors takes over the job.
SpaceX -- or Space Exploration Technologies Corp. -- is based in
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 wee hours of 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.