SpaceX, the darling of commercial space advocates and
whipping boy of its foes, defied the odds Friday and sent a new rocket into
orbit, a stunning achievement considering the company had to quickly recover
from a trio of setbacks earlier in the day, including a dramatic last-second
The 158-foot tall Falcon 9 rocket bolted off its seaside
launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla., 2:45 p.m. EDT, delivering what may turn out
to be a death knell to opponents of a new “buy commercial” initiative that threatens
to upset the status quo at NASA like never before.
Soaring cleanly over the Atlantic Ocean just south of where
NASA will soon mothball its shuttle launch pads, the rocket delivered a mockup
capsule into orbit, following an apparently smooth 9 ½-minute ride.
“It looks like we have made progress toward expanding the
human presence in space,” said SpaceX’s Robyn Ringuette, who provided a bit a
launch commentary on a Internet broadcast of the launch.
SpaceX intends to fly again this summer on a demonstration
mission for NASA. By next year, it plans to start work on a $1.6 billion NASA
contract to haul cargo to the International Space Station. Its ultimate goal, however, is to fly people aboard cheap, safe reusable spaceships.
The Obama administration wants to turn over station crew
ferry flights to companies like SpaceX, an idea that has been hotly debated in
Congress. Falcon 9’s inaugural launch, however, could take some of the wind out
of critics’ sails.
(Falcon flies. Credit: Getty Images)