Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Commercial spacecraft speeds toward space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Opening a new, entrepreneurial era in spaceflight, a ship built by a billionaire businessman sped toward the International Space Station with a load of groceries and other supplies Tuesday after a spectacular middle-of-the-night blastoff.

The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and its unmanned Dragon capsule marked the first time a commercial spacecraft has been sent to the orbiting outpost.

Tracing a fiery arc across the night sky, the rocket lifted off just before 4 a.m. and smoothly boosted the capsule into orbit. The capsule is expected to rendezvous with the space station within days, delivering a half-ton of provisions for its six crew members.

It is considered just a test flight — in fact, the capsule was packed with only nonessential items, in case something went disastrously wrong — but if all goes well with this mission and others like it, commercial spaceships could be carrying astronauts to and from the space station in three to five years.

"Falcon flew perfectly!!" billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of the SpaceX company, said via Twitter. "Feels like a giant weight just came off my back."

Musk later told reporters: "For us, it's like winning the Super Bowl."

Up to now, flights to the space station were something only major governments had done.

The White House offered congratulations. Learn More...

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