SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off on Dec. 8, 2010, with the company's first Dragon spacecraft. Three hours and 20 minutes later, the capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, marking a first for a non-governmental entity.
NASA's private spaceship needs
NASA grounded its space shuttle fleet in July 2011 after 30 years of service. Since then, the U.S. space agency has relied on international partners like Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency to launch cargo and crew to the space station.
While Dragon will transport solely cargo initially, SpaceX is also working on a crewed version of the capsule that it hopes will carry astronauts to the space station and, eventually, Mars. Other U.S. companies are also developing their own private crewed spacecraft, some (like SpaceX) with NASA funding. The agency has said it wants the first private astronaut taxis to be ready by 2017.
And SpaceX is not the only company vying to fill NASA's cargo-carrying void.
Orbital Sciences Corp., for example, is developing its own cargo freighter under a $1.9 billion NASA contract. The company, based in Dulles, Va., is building its Cygnus spacecraft to carry supplies to the orbital outpost, with the first test flight expected later this year.
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