The Dragon spacecraft is now the first private spaceship to reach orbit and return safely to Earth. It just splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, after a perfect mission. This is a huge milestone in the history of space exploration.
The view from the Dragon spacecraft's camera, in orbit
Dragon about to splash down in the Pacific Ocean
SpaceX crew arrives to the Dragon capsule
After aborting the first launch attempt because of a false telemetry reading, the Falcon 9 rocket zoomed up flawlessly from Cape Canaveral (">watch video here), flying over the Atlantic Ocean and reaching orbit in under ten minutes. Seconds after shutting down its second stage, the Dragon spacecraft separated from the Falcon 9 rocket.
Dragon orbited the planet gathering crucial data for future missions. Then it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, opening its parachute and splashing gracefully in the Pacific Ocean, right on its projected target—this hasn't happened since the Apollo years! The SpaceX crew has already recovered the capsule.
But the important thing here is the fact that this feat—launching a spacecraft capable of carrying seven astronauts and returning it safely to Earth—has never been achieved outside of state agencies. By completing this mission, SpaceX has demonstrated that any private company with the needed resources could fly a spaceship into orbit. Like NASA Administrator Charles Bolden just declared:
While rocket launches from the Cape are considered a common occurrence, the historic significance of today's achievement by SpaceX should not be lost.
These new explorers are to spaceflight what Lindhbergh to commercial aviation.
We're witnessing the dawn of a new era whose ultimate result could be routine, safe access to space, with industry, academia, other agencies and other governments regularly sending payloads and people to low Earth orbit.
The Dragon capsule will enable the United States to stop depending on the Russians for launching astronauts to the space station. After the end of the space shuttle program, this will be badly needed.
It may very well be the main way to ferry both astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station and other private space stations in orbit, like the ones now being built by Bigelow.
This launch signals a new beginning in the age of space exploration. Congratulations, SpaceX.