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Originally published Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 3:09 PM

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SpaceX prepares for first trip to space station under NASA contract

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is set to blast off Sunday for the international space station carrying a capsule packed with 1,000 pounds of food, water and other supplies.

Los Angeles Times

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LOS ANGELES — Rocket maker SpaceX is poised to return to the international space station with its Dragon spacecraft to carry out the first contracted cargo-resupply flight in NASA's history.

SpaceX performed a successful demonstration mission to the space station in May, showing NASA that the company could do the job. SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., has secured a $1.6 billion contract to carry out 12 such cargo missions, and Sunday's mission would be the first.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is set to blast off at 5:35 p.m. PDT Sunday from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla., carrying the Dragon capsule packed with 1,000 pounds of food, water and supplies.

"I'm still quite nervous about it because it's just our second mission to the station," said Elon Musk, 41, SpaceX's billionaire founder and chief executive. "We're hoping that this mission goes as smoothly as the last one."

With last year's retirement of the space-shuttle fleet, NASA is eager to give private industry the job of carrying cargo and crews, in hopes of cutting costs.

Meanwhile, the space agency will focus on deep-space missions to land probes on asteroids and Mars.

Another aerospace firm, Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., is nipping at SpaceX's heels with a test flight of its commercial rocket set for this year.

Orbital has a $1.9 billion cargo-hauling contract with NASA. The company is running tests on its Antares rocket at a launchpad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia for a separate resupply mission.

Critics have voiced concerns about NASA's move toward private space missions. They contend private space companies are risky ventures with unproven technology. But SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies, quieted many opponents after its successful demonstration mission.

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