Early this morning, private space company Space X sent its Dragon capsule into orbit. On Friday, if all goes well, it will rendezvous with the International Space Station, thus kicking off a beautiful $1.6 billion, 12 mission friendship with NASA to ferry cargo back and forth in the post-Shuttle era. Eventually, that cargo may include astronauts as well.
On this mission the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket did carry some human cargo, actually. Exactly 308 people made the trip. They were already dead, though, which made the craft less crowded that it would otherwise be, and the mission somewhat lower risk. Among the ashes: Actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on the 1960s television series "Star Trek," and Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper.
Reactions around the Web ranged from capitalistically ecstatic:
"I think this is an example of American entrepreneurship at its best," Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA's commercial crew and cargo program, said in a briefing before the launch.
Admittedly, having seen the last two shuttle launches in person, we didn't know how we'd feel about watching this test of launch and rendezvous by Space Exploration Technologies, otherwise known as SpaceX. So we choose to keep our distance....SpaceX is neither future nor failure. Based on this recent launch, SpaceX is the necessary present.
If you're feeling the need to gird your loins for the new private space era now upon us, why not check out Reason's special space issue with all the answers.