Private company Space X successfully launched its unmanned Falcon 9 rocket into space early Tuesday morning from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, U.S.A. Though not quite Apollo 11, it is space flight history. Here's what you should know.
1. SpaceX is the first private company to successfully launch a vessel to the International Space Station (ISS). Only governments had previously been able to achieve such a feat, but the White House welcomed Falcon 9's launch as an opportunity for government-run NASA. John P. Holdren, Assistant to President Barack Obama for Science and Technology said in a statement that "This expanded role for the private sector will free up more of NASA's resources to do what NASA does best -- tackle the most demanding technological challenges in space, including those of human space flight beyond low Earth orbit." NASA hopes the private sector will be able to provide trips to the ISS for American astronauts, who have to hop on board Russian vessels ever since NASA recently retired the last two shuttles.
2. This wasn't the first attempt to launch a private vessel into space. SpaceX had already successfully launched and retrived a spacecraft in orbit in December 2010. Falcon 9's take-off was delayed three times since February, and had to be cancelled at the last minute last Saturday because of a faulty engine valve. The video below shows today's launch.
3. SpaceX was created by the co-founder of PayPal. Elon Musk is a South African-born 40-year-old multi-millionaire who co-founded PayPal in 2000 and founded SpaceX in 2002. His entrepreneurship focuses on new technologies, and Musk is also the co-founder of Tesla Motors, an electric car company. Musk celebrated the Falcon 9 launch on Twitter.
Falcon flew perfectly!! Dragon in orbit, comm locked and solar arrays active!! Feels like a giant weight just came off my back :) Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 22, 2012
4. Falcon 9 is unmaned and carries a capsule called Dragon. Dragon contains 1,000 pounds of provisions for the ISS and was released into orbit nine minutes into the rocket's flight. The capsule is expected to dock with the ISS on Thursday.
5. Falcon 9 contains the ashes of 306 deceased people. Space services company Celestis sends ashes of deceased family members into orbit, for a fee. The ashes of "Star Trek" actor James Doohan, aka "Scotty," astronaut Gordon Cooper and skydiver Brady Watson Kane were among the celebrity remains launched this morning. Celestis had already collaborated with SpaceX for a first unsuccessful launch in 2008 - but the company holds back a portion of the ashes in case something goes wrong. Prices run from $1000 (suborbital flight) to $13,000 (deep space).