Jay Barbree writes from Cape Canaveral, Fla.: Something happened here today.
A privately built rocket named Falcon 9 climbed into orbit and turned loose a privately built spacecraft named Dragon that scooted around Earth twice, maneuvering its flight path before parachuting on the eastern Pacific Ocean 500 miles from its flight control center in Hawthorne, Calif.
It was an unqualified success for American private industry. Its builder, SpaceX, put $600 million into the project while NASA donated $278 million in seed money.
The commercial venture is now well on track to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, possibly as early as next year.
It was the second success for Falcon 9 in a row, and the first for the spacecraft Dragon. If this success continues, the private rocket and spacecraft could be hauling astronauts to the space station in two to three years — within a year or two after the space shuttle fleet has been retired.
Veteran space observers feared there would be a five- to six-year hiatus in astronaut flights from Cape Canaveral. Today’s success goes a long way toward dispelling those fears.
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Jay Barbree is NBC News’ Cape Canaveral correspondent, and the only reporter who has broadcast every mission flown by American astronauts for the same network. His latest book, “Live From Cape Canaveral,” sums up 50 years of space news coverage.