CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AFP) - Opening a new era in private space flight, the US company SpaceX on Tuesday became the first commercial outfit to launch its own craft toward the International Space Station.
“Three, two, one and launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as NASA turns to the private sector to resupply the International Space Station,” said NASA commentator George Diller, as the spacecraft blasted off at 3:44 am (0744 GMT).
The test flight of the Dragon space capsule, which launched atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, aims to show that commercial industry can restore US access to the ISS after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet last year.
The mission is set to include a fly-by and berthing with the station in the next three days, before the capsule returns to Earth at the end of this month.
Shortly after liftoff, the cargo-carrying spacecraft entered orbit and video images showed mission control staff at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California jumping from their seats, hugging and clapping.
SpaceX chief executive officer and Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk said watching the rocket rise from the launch pad was an “extremely intense moment.”