NASA's Plan to Use Commercial Rockets Lifts Off

Private access to space took a giant leap forward on June 4 with a successful test launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, developed and built by SpaceX, a venture headed by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk.

The two-stage Falcon 9, which stands 48 meters tall, lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying a dummy capsule that could soon deliver supplies to the International Space Station—and, one day, even astronauts to orbit.

Hopes are especially high for SpaceX in light of President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget request, which calls for NASA to terminate its own line of Ares rockets and instead to contract with private operators. In 2008 NASA had announced that it ordered 12 flights from SpaceX to resupply the space station through 2016, at an estimated cost of about $1.6 billion.

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