Despite some clouds and a slight chance of rain, SpaceX's first ever official mission went off without a hitch in Cape Canaveral on Sunday evening. The launch ushers in a new era for NASA, now space shuttle-less, as it turns to the private sector to keep its astronauts fed and ready on everybody's favorite lab above the clouds, the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 rocket took off at 8:35 p.m. carrying a single unmanned cargo capsuled named Dragon with about 1,000 pounds of food, clothing, equipment and 23 science experiments. Also, space ice cream. It'll return to Earth in three weeks.
The official launch of the SpaceX program ushers in a new era for NASA. It's an independence day of sorts. Since it shuttered its shuttle program and cut back on rocket missions, NASA's had to depend on the Russian space agency to make deliveries to its astronauts on the International Space Station. (Russia flying space missions for the U.S.? Remember the Cold War?) But with the help of Elon Musk's ten-year-old company SpaceX, the U.S. enters a new era of space travel that leans on the private sector to do what the public sector can't. Taking into account the test flight earlier this year, this is the second trip to the space station but hardly its last. SpaceX Southern California-based SpaceX is on track to receive $1.6 billion worth of taxpayer money for its supply runs to the space station and will soon open another facility in Brownsville, Texas.
This doesn't mean that NASA's kicking back while the contractors do the busy work, though. Part of the plan to hire SpaceX for routine supply runs to the space station is the freeing up of resources so that NASA can focus on long-distance missions like this year's trip to Mars or, at some point in the future, a jaunt over to an asteroid. Meanwhile, SpaceX will keep the astronauts fed, bring their urine home for testing and ultimately run astronauts back and forth. So just like that, in the most patriotic way possible, we've created a service industry for space. God bless America.