A private space capsule called Dragon soared into the predawn sky Tuesday, riding a pillar of flame like its beastly namesake on a history-making trip to the International Space Station.
The unmanned capsule, built by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture, is the first non-governmental spacecraft to launch to the space station, ushering in a new era of partnership between the public and private spaceflight programs.
“I think this is an example of American entrepreneurship at its best,”
Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s commercial crew and cargo program, said in a briefing before the launch. About 100 VIP guests were on hand to witness liftoff, NASA officials said.
Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX, known more formally as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., launched its Dragon capsule at 3:44 a.m. ET Tuesday from a pad here at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It blasted off atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, a 157-foot (48-meter) booster powered by nine Merlin rocket engines. The space station was flying 249 miles above the North Atlantic Ocean as the rocket lifted off, NASA officials said.