Space Exploration Technologies on Wednesday successfully launched and landed a capsule capable of transporting humans to the International Space Station, marking the first time a privately-owned contractor has accomplished such a feat.
SpaceX's Dragon capsule, boosted by the company's own Falcon 9 rocket, blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral at 10:43 a.m. EST, following a 90-minute delay caused by a faulty indicator light. Dragon then circled the earth twice before splashing down just over three hours later in the Pacific Ocean, about 500 miles off the coast of Southern California.
"There's so much that can go wrong and it all went right," said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, in a statement. "I'm sort of in semi-shock," said Musk, a tech entrepreneur who started electronic payments network PayPal before founding SpaceX.
SpaceX could play a key role in President Obama's plan to turn launches to the ISS over to private contractors following the retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet next year.
The president wants the space agency to concentrate more on deep space missions—with an eye to putting a man on Mars in the next few decades—and environmental research.
The plan has drawn barbs from critics, including several members of Congress, who say it will cost jobs along Florida's Spacecoast and in other states that support NASA, and could leave the U.S. trailing Russia and China in the space race.
NASA is cooperating with SpaceX and other contractors as it looks to turn many of its traditional activities over to the private sector under its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.