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First Private Rocket Blasts Off To Space Station

First Private Mission To ISS Blasts Offi
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May 22, 2012
A Falcon 9 rocket, built by the SpaceX company, blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 22 with supplies for the International Space Station. This is the first time a private business has launched a vessel to the space station. (AP video)
By RFE/RL
An unmanned commercial rocket has blasted off from Florida on a test flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

Flight controllers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center announced the successful blastoff from the Cape Canaveral launch facility on May 22, making it the first-ever mission carried out by a private company to the orbital outpost.

All other missions to the ISS have, until now, been implemented by the governments of world powers.

The 54-meter Falcon 9 rocket carried the reusable SpaceX "Dragon" capsule into space.

Carrying a 544-kilogram payload of supplies, the capsule is expected to attempt to dock with the space station on May 25.

"Dragon's" successful blastoff on May 22 comes after a first attempt to launch the rocket was aborted just seconds before planned liftoff on May 19.

Engineers traced the problem to climbing pressure in an engine chamber due to a faulty purge valve.

Space Tourism

Both the Falcon 9 rocket and the SpaceX "Dragon" capsule are produced by the California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX).

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk told journalists after the launch that it marked a successful start for the company in space.

"Everything is looking really good, and I think I would really count today as a success no matter what happens the rest of the mission," Musk said.

NASA has invested in SpaceX and other private companies with a view to developing vehicles capable of flying cargo and eventually astronauts to the ISS.

The privately owned companies are also expected one day to compete with each other to fly tourists and non-NASA researchers into orbit as the space market grows.

"The significance of this day cannot be overstated. A private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told reporters at the launch.
 
"And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start and I hope you all would agree on that."

Currently, the U.S. government has no space vehicles of its own to launch astronauts or cargo. 

Since the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet last year, NASA has been dependent on Russia to fly crew members to the ISS, at a cost of more than $60 million per person.

Russia, Europe, and Japan also fly cargo to the space station, which orbits some 380 kilometers above the Earth.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa
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