World's First Private Spacecraft Launches (And Returns) Successfully
Hawthorne, California based space rocket developer Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) made history on December 8th, for not only successfully launching the first privately funded Spacecraft into Space, but also, guiding it back down to Earth safely.
Dragon, which launched off a rocket called Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida at about 10.43am on Wednesday morning, was delayed by 90 minutes thanks to a faulty indicator light. However, once it took off, it wasted no time, successfully falling into orbit in less than nine minutes.
After circling the Earth twice, the unmanned Spacecraft gracefully parachuted back to Earth, splashing into its pre-designated spot in the Pacific Ocean, about 500 miles off the coast of Mexico, where a SpaceX crew was waiting to pick up the debris.
The test flight is considered historical not only because it's the first privately funded Spacecraft to go beyond the sub-orbit, but also, because it is the first one to return successfully. Until now, only Spacecraft funded by a few governments have been able to make a round trip.
In fact even Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX had not expected this kind of flawless execution for Dragon's inaugural flight.
While ecstatic, the company and NASA know that SpaceX and other similar companies have a long way to go before the Spacecraft can be used for the reason they are being developed - To carry equipment and eventually even astronauts to the International Space Station - A task that the American Space Agency is hoping to contract out to private companies once the last two Shuttle flights scheduled for February and April 2011, are completed.
Will the private companies be up for the challenge? Judging from the success of yesterday's flight we certainly believe so. The most exciting thing about privately funded Spacecraft is that they will eventually also ferry tourists - Of course, only those who can afford the exorbitant $200,000 USD, it is expected to cost.