SpaceX launches first Falcon 9 rocket

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Profiles of Dragon Cargo and Dragon Crew capsule configurations.
Image: NASA.

Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket for the first time at 1845 UTC ( 2:45 pm EDT) from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, United States.

Artist rendering of SpaceX Dragon spacecraft delivering cargo to the International Space Station.
Image: NASA.

The Falcon 9, second in the Falcon series of rockets, has a first stage that is powered by nine Merlin 1C engines, and a second stage powered by one Merlin vacuum engine. Today's inaugural launch carried the Dragon Spacecraft Qualification Unit (DSQU), a boilerplate version of the Dragon capsule. The Dragon is intended to take cargo — and possibly people — to the International Space Station through NASA's COTS program. The program is intended to help develop commercial space transportation, a goal that fits with President Obama's recent change of direction for NASA. Under President Obama's new plan, NASA would hand over the mundane task of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) launches to private companies, and instead concentrate on new technology development.

However, no private firms yet have the capability to independently launch humans into space, without NASA assistance. SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk hopes that the Falcon 9 will eventually fill the void in human rated commercial rockets, but he also recognizes the inherent risk and danger of rocket launches. "There's nothing more fear and anxiety-inducing than a rocket launch," said Musk.

Not everyone agrees with President Obama and Elon Musk. Republican Senator Richard Shelby doesn't think private firms are ready for the challenge of taking humans into space, preferring that government funding be directed to NASA instead. "Today the commercial providers that NASA has contracted with cannot even carry the trash back from the space station, much less carry humans to or from space safely," the Senator said.

Although today's launch succeeded, Musk had said earlier neither the success nor failure of the Falcon 9 would be the ultimate arbitrator of the fate of NASA's new commercial-friendly direction. "They sort of focus everything on us and try to create a situation where our first launch of Falcon 9 is somehow a verdict on the president's policy, which is not right," he said.

Falcon 9 1 minute prior to the first, failed, launch attempt

Falcon 9 1 minute prior to the first, failed, launch attempt

The rocket shortly after the failed launch attempt

The rocket shortly after the failed launch attempt

1 minute prior to the successful second launch attempt

1 minute prior to the successful second launch attempt

The rocket during takeoff

The rocket during takeoff

The view from the rocket 1 minute after takeoff

The view from the rocket 1 minute after takeoff

The rocket shortly after the separation of the first stage

The rocket shortly after the separation of the first stage



Sources

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