The commercial space race is about to begin. Early Saturday morning at 4:55 a.m. EDT, the first privately designed and built spacecraft destined for the International Space Station is expected to lift off from the historic Cape Canaveral Air Force Station not far from the Atlantic Ocean on Florida's east coast. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are designed and built by Space Exploration Technologies - the company better known as SpaceX - at the company's factory not far from the Pacific Ocean in Hawthorne, California.
Tomorrow's scheduled launch puts an exclamation point on a new era of space transportation. If the first era of space flight focused on a Cold War-driven race to show what could be done, and the second era focused on making space flight and delivering orbiting payloads routine, this new era is focused on making all of the above a lot less expensive.
SpaceX is leading the charge to bring down the cost of flying to space. Driven by a personal desire to make life multi-planetary - aka travel to Mars - the company's founder and leader Elon Musk has built a program with about $4 billion worth of contracts and launch orders already on its books. But it has only launched a few customer payloads so far.
With just a handful of launches under its belt, SpaceX has yet to successfully prove its business case of dramatically reducing the cost of delivering payloads into orbit. And both its founder Elon Musk, and current customer NASA, rarely miss an opportunity to emphasize the challenging nature of the upcoming ISS mission. But the company is on target for backing up its low cost promise and is managing to achieve this goal by spending hundreds of millions, rather than billions of dollars.
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