SpaceX rocket makes liftoff, headed to space station
The rocket ship built by SpaceX lifted off gracefully in a nighttime launching and arced off in a streak of light amid loud applause.
The New York Times
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — He does not have the name recognition of some other space entrepreneurs, people like Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin empire, or Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, or Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com billionaire.
But Elon Musk, a computer prodigy and serial entrepreneur whose ambitions include solving the world's energy needs and colonizing the solar system, was the man of the hour — or of 3:44 a.m. Tuesday, Eastern time — when the rocket ship built by his company, SpaceX, lifted off gracefully in a nighttime launching and arced off in a streak of light amid loud applause.
If all goes as planned, his unmanned Dragon capsule, lifted into orbit by his Falcon 9 rocket, will berth at the international-space station on Friday bearing a modest cargo: 162 meal packets (45 of them low-sodium), a laptop computer, a change of clothes for the station astronauts and 15 student experiments.
Far more important than the supplies is the proof of concept. Musk is trying to show the world that a determined entrepreneur can start a rocket company from scratch and, a decade later, end up doing a job that has until now been the exclusive province of federal governments.
It is the latest achievement by Musk, a cocky businessman who was born in South Africa and is one month shy of his 41st birthday. Best known for helping found PayPal and selling it to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion, he currently multitasks by running two companies he founded: SpaceX, officially known as the Space Exploration Technologies Corp., and Tesla Motors, which in 2008 brought to market a head-turning all-electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster. (On Tuesday, Tesla announced that customer deliveries of its electric sedan, the Model S, would begin on June 22 — ahead of schedule).
He is also chairman of SolarCity, a company that designs and installs solar-energy systems.
SpaceX is based in Hawthorne, Calif., a few miles from Los Angeles International Airport, and Tesla is in Palo Alto in Northern California, but Musk runs both hands-on. Early Saturday morning, he was in SpaceX's mission control for the first launching attempt of the Falcon 9 when the computers called a last-second abort, shutting down engines that had already ignited.
On Tuesday, the Falcon 9 launched, putting Musk at the center of NASA's ambitious effort to turn over basic transportation to low-Earth orbit to private companies.
The Dragon is scheduled to stay at the station until the end of the month as astronauts unpack its cargo and replace it with items to bring back to Earth. Undocking on May 31, the Dragon will splash down in the Pacific Ocean off California. With the completion of a successful demonstration, SpaceX would begin a $1.6 billion contract to fly 12 cargo missions to the space station, and it hopes to be among the companies that NASA selects to take astronauts to the station.
Just four years ago, the first three launchings of the company's small Falcon 1 rocket failed. One more failure, Musk said, and he would have run out of money. As he went through a divorce from his first wife, with whom he has five sons, he had to borrow money from friends.
The fourth launching succeeded. Late in 2008, NASA awarded SpaceX the cargo contract.