Private Spaceship to Attempt to Reach Orbit, Return

NASA's future could hinge on Elon Musk's SpaceX launch
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2010 10:05 AM CST
In this April 15, 2010 file photo, President Barack Obama, left, looks at the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle with Elon Musk, of SpaceX, center, at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
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(Newser) – Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm is ready to boldly go where no non-governmental entity has gone before. Tomorrow, the company will launch what, if all goes well, will be the first private spacecraft to reach orbit, and then return to earth. The spacecraft, dubbed the "Dragon," won’t have anyone aboard it, and it’ll probably be several years before it does. But NASA is hoping the vehicle could eventually replace the space shuttle.

The flight is “a huge thing, gigantic, historic,” Bill Nye tells Aol News. “It may very well lead to everyday people having access to space.” When Barack Obama scuttled NASA’s in-house shuttle replacement last spring, he was counting on private companies to fill the gap, with SpaceX currently the frontrunner. NASA has agreed to pay the company $1.6 billion for a dozen Dragon flights in which SpaceX is to haul supplies to the International Space Station. That lends tomorrow’s test political import, says one aeronautics professor. It’s “a credibility test for the decision by the president.”

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