SpaceX Second Launch Attempt a Success

Dragon to perform a series of tests before attempting to dock with ISS.

SpaceX Dragon

SpaceX Dragon

** SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches the Dragon
capsule into space early Tuesday morning.**

After aborting Saturday's scheduled launch because of a faulty engine valve, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket made a successful second attempt early Tuesday morning, shooting the Dragon cargo capsule into orbit for its historic attempt to become the first commercial spacecraft to visit the International Space Station.

The Dragon – which has only entered orbit once before in 2010 – will now undergo an extensive series of tests and demonstrations before attempting to rendezvous with the ISS in the next few days.

If those efforts prove successful, the Dragon will remain docked at the space station for three weeks, allowing time for the crewmembers to inspect the craft and unpack the 1,200 pounds of non-critical cargo carried by the capsule. The spacecraft will then venture home, reentering the Earth’s atmosphere for a parachute-water landing off the coast of Southern California.

While many key challenges lie ahead for the mission, NASA and SpaceX representatives lauded the launch as a big step forward for the burgeoning commercial space sector.

SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk said watching today’s successful launch “was like winning the Super Bowl,” while NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said “the significance of this day cannot be overstated.”

“We’re now back on the brink of a new future, a future that embraces the innovation the private sector brings to the table.”

If the demonstration mission launched Tuesday goes according to plan, SpaceX will be cleared to begin a series of 12 cargo missions for NASA outlined in a $1.6 billion contract awarded to the commercial space venture in 2008. In addition to the cargo runs, SpaceX has also received a $75 million grant to build a manned version of the Dragon, which is already under development.

As far as the Dragon’s approaching attempt to dock with the ISS, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Alan Lindemoyer said that “a thousand things still have to go right, but we are looking forward to this exciting mission.”

In addition to launching the Dragon spacecraft into the history books this week, the Falcon 9 rocket on Tuesday also carried the ashes of several hundred people, included among them those of Gordon Cooper, one of the original Mercury seven astronauts, as well as James Doohan, known for his role as Scotty in Star Trek.