The era of commercial space flight officially begins. SpaceX has sent its first full resupply mission to the International Space Station.
It didn't go off without a hitch — although what hitch there was the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster's computers handled deftly as it blasted a cargo-laden Dragon capsule toward the International Space Station last night.
Something went wrong with one engine, but the Falcon 9 was able to adjust in flight and continue the mission. According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9 is the only rocket currently flying that can do this.
Also, it looks extremely cool when launching at night in Florida (see above).
This is the first of 12 missions that SpaceX will undertake, to resupply the ISS in the wake of the cessation of Space Shuttle flights. The Hawthorne-based startup — whose CEO, Elon Musk, also runs electric carmaker Tesla — proved earlier this year that it could launch a capsule, rendezvous with the ISS, and return cargo to Earth via the old-school splashdown route.
Members of the project leadership team pass out high fives to engineers from mission control before a press conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Sunday night. At $2.5 billion, the Curiosity mission equals what NASA has given to SpaceX in funding.
KPCC reporters had been talking to Southland scientists and engineers and counting down the days until NASA's most ambitious rover yet — Curiosity — prepares to land on the Martian surface. Follow the series online.
The spectacular success of JPL in landing the Mars Curiosity rover on Mars last night followed hot of the heels of SpaceX's stunning demonstration that a commercial spaceflight company — and a startup, no less — could do what only governments had been able to do: send a capsule to the International Space Station and bring it back home.
The JPL rocket scientists in their now iconic powder-blue polo shirts (not to mention mohawks) and SpaceX's engineers in their L.A. casual-cool mission control room threads formed a vivid contrast with the buttoned-up (and tobacco-friendly) NASA vibe of old. Something new is definitely in the air, er...airless void of space, and much of it is being designed and built in Southern California. SpaceX is headquartered in Hawthorne, just south of L.A, and JPL calls Pasadena home.