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SpaceX's first Falcon 9 achieves Earth orbit

Static test firing of the Falcon 9 first stage, conducted at SpaceX's launch site, Cape Canaveral, Florida on March 13, 2010. Photo: SpaceX / Chris Thompson.

CAPE CANAVERAL (AP): A multimillionaire's test rocket blasted off on its maiden voyage and successfully reached orbit in a dry run for NASA's push to go commercial.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket achieved Earth orbit nine minutes into the flight as planned, drawing praise from NASA, the White House and others eager for the company to start resupplying the International Space Station.

"All in all, this has been a good day for SpaceX and a promising development for the US space program, as we make progress toward expanding the human presence in space," launch commentator Robyn Ringuette announced from the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX's brand new rocket soared off its launch pad into thin clouds at mid-afternoon, carrying a mock-up of the company's spacecraft, named Dragon. The goal was to put the capsule into a 250-kilometre-high orbit, which it did.

"Essentially a bull's-eye," a company spokeswoman said.
The first attempt to launch the 48-meter rocket was aborted in the final few seconds earlier in the afternoon.

NASA hopes to use the Falcon-Dragon combo for hauling cargo and possibly astronauts to the space station, once the shuttles retire later this year or early next. The first supply run could come next year.

SpaceX - or Space Exploration Technologies - was founded eight years ago by Elon Musk, a South African-born entrepreneur who co-founded PayPal. It is one of several companies vying for NASA's business.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called the launch "an important milestone in the commercial transportation effort" and said it puts the company a step closer to supplying the space station.

And the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy shot out this tweet: "what a show!"

President Barack Obama toured the SpaceX launch site back in April in a strong show of support for his effort to get NASA out of the orbit-ferrying business and into real outer space exploration, like expeditions to asteroids and Mars.

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