July 17, 2016 – 04:26 pm

A SpaceX rocket waits to be launched at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in March. If all goes as planned, the private company's rocket will be the first commercial spacecraft to visit the International Space Station. SpaceX hide caption

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A private spaceship owned by a company called SpaceX is scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral in Florida early Saturday morning.

If all goes well, the unmanned capsule will rocket up on a mission to deliver food and other supplies to the International Space Station, becoming the first commercial spacecraft to visit the outpost.

The highly anticipated mission could mark the beginning of what some say could be a new era in spaceflight, with private companies operating taxi services that could start taking people to orbit in just a few years.

SpaceX and NASA have been working hard to make this launch happen — and that has meant navigating the cultural differences between this small, young startup and the huge veteran space agency.

"I feel very strongly that SpaceX would not have been able to get started, nor would we have made the progress that we have, without the help of NASA, " says Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002 after making a fortune with the Internet firm PayPal.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk runs his rocket company like a Silicon Valley tech firm.Musk says he runs his rocket company like a Silicon Valley tech firm. "That's the operating system that I have in my head of how to run an organization. And that's how I've created SpaceX, " says Musk. "NASA is obviously coming from a different heritage."

For five decades, NASA was American spaceflight. Now, the space shuttles are going to museums — Discovery is already in the Smithsonian. And the government wants NASA to focus on deep space exploration, while relying on private space taxis to take cargo and people back and forth to the nearby space station.

NASA has been working with companies to make sure that vision of the future will happen. It has a cargo delivery contract with SpaceX worth $1.6 billion. The space agency has also been handing out plenty of advice.

Musk says so far, their collaboration has worked well: "No relationship is perfect, certainly. But on balance, it's really good."

The relationship involves daily calls and emails between people who live in two different worlds.

For example, the workforce at NASA is generally older. Many top managers cherish their childhood memories of watching the Apollo astronauts on TV.


Source: www.npr.org

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