It is the first time that a private enterprise has managed to launch its own space craft into orbit, and is a vital step forward for NASA’s plans to rely on commercial development of new human Space flight vehicles.
SpaceX, a private company based in California, USA and run by Elon Musk (co-founder of PayPal ), has been developing the Falcon 9 launch rocket to carry the Dragon Space craft module into orbit. Blast-off took place yesterday 8th December 2010, from Cape Canaveral, with the Dragon entering into orbit 10 minutes after, and proceeding to circle the Earth twice before successfully re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down into the Pacific Ocean west of Mexico, around four hours later.
The Dragon capsule is initially intended to take cargo up to the International Space Station (ISS), but potentially if all goes well, it could also be used to transport new crew members to the ISS, up to seven at a time. After the retirement of the Space shuttles in 2011, transportation of astronauts will be totally reliant on the Russian Soyuz craft, thus the continued development of the SpaceX Dragon capsule, and others like it, is of vital importance to the continuation of the USA Space program.