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    Rocket Passes Big Test for 1st Private Launch to Space Station

    A private SpaceX rocket sailed through a dress rehearsal Thursday (March 1) for the launch of the robotic Dragon space capsule, which could blast off toward the International Space Station as early as next month.

    The five-hour launch readiness test, held at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, went through full countdown procedures, including fueling, for the next Dragon test flight, which is slated for late April. It was designed to check out any potential issues with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, Dragon and associated ground systems.

    SpaceX officials were pleased with the results.

    "We ran down the countdown clock to a planned abort at T - 5 seconds at 12:18 p.m. Eastern," SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Brost Grantham told in an email. "The test went well."

    The aerospace firm planned to practice loading cargo onto Dragon today, she added.

    SpaceX holds a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly 12 unmanned supply missions to the space station. In December 2010, the company launched Dragon on its maiden test flight, becoming the first private firm to send a spaceship to orbit and retrieve it successfully. [Photos: SpaceX's Dragon Spaceship]

    Dragon's upcoming flight will be the second — and, if all goes well, final — demonstration before operational cargo missions begin. During the test, SpaceX wants the capsule to dock with the orbiting lab and unload some supplies, just as it would during an actual cargo flight.

    The original plan called for the station-bound Dragon to launch on Feb. 7, but in January SpaceX pushed that back to March 20, saying it needed more time to prepare the vehicle. The target date later slipped again, to late April; an exact date won't be chosen until SpaceX works through some minor issues, NASA officials have said.

    SpaceX is not the only company vying to fill the cargo-carrying void left by the retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet in 2011.

    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 space station, with the first test flight expected later this year.

    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 U.S. space agency currently relies on international partners like Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency to launch cargo and crew to the space station. assistant managing editor Clara Moskowitz (@ClaraMoskowitz) contributed to this story. You can follow senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall and get the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

    • Jack  •  1 day 9 hrs ago
      Hey, all the comments here seem to be a little off, from both sides. The Saturn for Apollo was built by private contractors (Boeing, Douglas, IBM,others), as was the booster for the space shuttle (Thiokol corp.), using public money (tax money). In WW2 all the planes and tanks were built by people and machinery of private companies, refitted for the war machine. This new thing, it is still a private company, using tax money; the only difference is less involvement by NASA, and the crew is private rather than NASA or military test pilots like in the old days. It's still a partnership.
      It won't be really private until it is paid for by investor's money. That could happen for going to Mars, where there is the possibility of getting an actual return on investement (see Zubrin's wonderful book "The Case for Mars"). It is not obvious to see how enough money could be made with just going to the space station or the barren moon to pay for itself (maybe some kind of research breakthroughs in that environment, or some kind of spectacular way to get solar energy beamed back, but it is a long shot that that would pay for itself). Need to go to Mars to get serous about payback. I'm too old, won't get to see it happen.
    • Droog  •  Irvine, California  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      Finally, we're outsourcing to ourselves!!!!
    • WATCHDOG  •  Alamo, Nevada  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      Who says we Americans are out of ingenuity? God speed SpaceX
    • A B  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      The U.S. space agency currently relies on international partners like Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency to launch cargo and crew to the space station.
    • Han.andSolo  •  1 day 11 hrs ago
      Good luck SpaceX ! I wish these very careful preparations causing so many delays pay off in a perfect flight !
    • Upstate  •  Syracuse, New York  •  1 day 4 hrs ago
      Wow, these posts are interesting. The only difference between the SpaceX vehicle and NASA vehicles is that there is some private money involved in SpaceX. It is not a private company building something on its own, rather, it is a private company building something under contract with NASA. It is great to see the technical expertise developed by NASA being used and improved upon by a private company, hopefully to lead to more efficiencies in space missions.
    • K  •  1 day 7 hrs ago
      As we were all looking forward to the high tech Space Shuttle replacement that would supposedly take off and land in one piece, here we are back where we started and using rockets just like the 1960s. What makes it worse is we don't even have something of our own anymore and have to rely on former adversaries and allies to take us up there. I thought back then that at the rate we were going during the 1960s, we would have been to Mars already by the end of the 1980s and be all "Star Trek' by now.
    • James Lucas  •  Louisville, Kentucky  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      I want to go
    • tony  •  Washington, District of Columbia  •  1 day 4 hrs ago
      Elon Musk who created SpaceX also created Paypal, Tessla electric car company, Solar City USA, immigrated from South Africa and is about 40 years old. More impressive than Steve Job's accomplishments with Apple since he wasn't both the technical brain and the marketing genious - IMHO.
    • TheJiggler94  •  20 hrs ago
      This is truly going to be a great year for the advancement of space flight. God speed SpaceX
    • Tom B  •  Berea, Ohio  •  1 day 7 hrs ago
      Don't Forget to double check the O rings.
    • moonwatcher  •  Statesville, North Carolina  •  1 day 8 hrs ago
      Good luck to SpaceX. This has always been a "public-private" venture. NASA provided some seed money, but Elon Musk, is putting his own money up as well. The technical oversight and transfer of technology from NASA to these private companies has always been worth more than even the seed money. I wish them well, but I do question why we had to reinvent the wheel when larger companies such as Boeing and Lock-Mart already had the technical expertise from developing the early ICBM's and the EELV's. Why didn't they compete?
    • j  •  1 day 7 hrs ago
      People need to realize that NASA budgets include funds for government projects that have nothing to do with NASA or space exploration. A lot of the money, by design, was siphoned away for other governmental projects they don't want us to know about. Happens all the time and has been going on for 40 years or more.
    • Ed  •  1 day 1 hr ago
      Seems to be lost on the bellowing whiners that a commercial company, that's right, a COMMERCIAL company, is about to conduct a meaningful mission in space, (government contract or no). That, folks, is a landmark. The country to do it? USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!
    • David  •  Cicero, Illinois  •  1 day 11 hrs ago
      go get em'.
    • Johnny5  •  Pittsburg, California  •  20 hrs ago
      Let the future, the dawn of the final frontier, begin.
    • Dennis  •  1 day 3 hrs ago
      "The U.S. space agency currently relies on international partners like Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency to launch cargo and crew to the space station."

      This fact should be an embarrassment to all Americans.
    • AwakeAlertOrientedx3  •  1 day 4 hrs ago
      Extraplanetary colonies would be much more efficient than planetary colonies. Enabled to build in all directions, you could move stuff around with less weight and distance and hence less cost. You could generate much more solar energy without atmospheric interference. You could stabilize an internal environment more easily with a constant external environment. You could even relocate your colony if you wanted. A Moon base is overrated.
    • Cherokee  •  1 day 5 hrs ago
      yeap we love them here just down the road from us
    • Kirstin  •  1 day 11 hrs ago
      Woohoo! Way to go, SpaceX!
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