After a series of false starts, SpaceX successfully launched its Dragon spacecraft Tuesday morning as it tries to become the first commercial space company to fly to the International Space Station.
The rocket was originally scheduled to take off early Saturday morning, but it was delayed at the last minute when a pre-flight scan detected high pressure in the engine five combustion chamber. The company discovered a faulty check valve and replaced it. At 3:44 a.m. EDT at Cape Canaveral, SpaceX launched Dragon aboard its Falcon 9 rocket.
Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of the company, said in a statement he was pleased with the launch.
"Everything is looking really good and I think I would count today as a success no matter what happens with the rest of the mission," he said. Dragon is expected to orbit the earth and attempt to dock on the International Space Station Friday. If successful, it'd be a commercial spaceflight milestone, and one that could lead to future manned commercial missions.
"This mission heralds the dawn of a new era of space exploration, one in which there is a significant commercial space element," Musk said. He said space travel is like "the Internet in the mid-1990s," when commercial companies rapidly introduced new innovations to what was a government-controlled market. "I hope and I believe that this mission will be historic in marking that turning point towards a rapid advancement in space transportation technology," Musk said.
Officials from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation commended SpaceX and NASA, who helped prepare and clear the spacecraft for launch, on the feat.
"The shuttle may be retired, but the American dream of space exploration is alive and well," Mark Sirangelo, former chairman of the organization said.
Dragon still has a series of challenges to complete—Thursday, it will undergo a battery of tests to decide if the spacecraft has what it takes to land on the International Space Station without destroying it. It is expected to return to earth May 31.
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org