The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off into orbit today, and its on-board capsule successfully returned to Earth about 3 hours later—the first time a private company negotiated a re-entry from orbit, reports AP. The test flight by SpaceX is a big step toward NASA's goal of privatizing certain space operations. It wants private companies to bring supplies, and maybe astronauts, to the International Space Station after the shuttle fleet retires next year.
"Splashdown on target. Mission is a success!" the company tweeted when the capsule—with no payload except commemorative patches—landed safely in the Pacific. The Falcon 9 has one more demo flight to go before it starts assuming real duties for the ISS, the Christian Science Monitor notes. Those deliveries could start by the end of next year. (Read more space flight stories.)