NPR logo Millionaire's Test Rocket Reaches Orbit On First Try


Millionaire's Test Rocket Reaches Orbit On First Try

Congratulations are pouring in to the private rocket company Space X after its new rocket blasted off on its first flight.

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A couple of hours after watching the Falcon 9 rocket successfully lift off and put an unmanned test capsule into orbit, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said he was having one of the best days of his life.

"My e-mail box has gone bonkers, and my phone's been ringing off the hook," Musk said.

The rocket soared off its launch pad into thin clouds at mid-afternoon, carrying a test version of the company's spacecraft, named Dragon. The goal was to put the capsule into a 155-mile-high orbit, which it did. The capsule will remain in orbit for a year before descending and burning up in the atmosphere.

Musk said Friday's launch helps vindicate President Obama's plan to give private companies the job of ferrying cargo and ultimately people to the space station, freeing up NASA to aim for true outer space.

"This bodes very well for the Obama plan," said Musk, the co-founder of PayPal. "It shows that even a sort of small new company like SpaceX can make a real difference."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden congratulated SpaceX, saying it was one step closer to having Falcon 9 provide cargo delivery services to the International Space Station.

Musk said the first flight to the station could come next year. And, he said, in just a few years his company's rocket could be ready to carry people.

But along with all the congratulations, there were cautionary words from critics like Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who noted "this modest success" does not mean commercial companies are ready to step in and replace NASA.

The next Falcon 9 launch is targeted for sometime this summer from the same pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, less than five miles from NASA's shuttle launch pads at Kennedy Space Center.

That rocket will hoist a true Dragon vessel on a test flight.

SpaceX has poured close to $400 million into its two lines of Falcon rockets. The Falcon 1 successfully flew in 2008 after three failed attempts, and again in 2009.

The Falcon takes its name from Han Solo's spaceship in the Star Wars film saga, the Millennium Falcon. Musk chose the name Dragon because of how some viewed his unlikely venture, borrowing from Puff the Magic Dragon.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report