Dragon rising: SpaceX flight takes to the sky

South African-born Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule successfully launched from Cape Canaveral in the United States on Tuesday, making it the first space launch by a private company in the history of space flight.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule successfully launched from Cape Canaveral in the United States (image: Reuters)

“Three, two, one and launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as Nasa turns to the private sector to resupply the International Space Station,” said NASA commentator George Diller, as the spacecraft blasted off at 03:44 US local time.

After one failed launch over the weekend, the successful blast-off propelled the Falcon 9 towards the International Space Station (ISS), where it is set to deliver 453kg of provisions and supplies to the astronauts stationed there.

As part of its consignment, Falcon 9 is also carrying on-board the ashes of actor James Doohan, who portrayed the iconic role of engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the popular Star Trek franchise.

Although the launch was a success, there are a number of tests that need to be done before the capsule can successfully dock with the ISS. “On 24 May, the spacecraft’s sensors and flight systems are to undergo a series of tests to see if the craft is ready to berth with the space station, including a complicated fly-under at a distance of about 2.5km. If NASA gives the green light, the Dragon will then approach the ISS on 25 May in an attempt to berth with the station,” wrote News24.

Once the docking process has been executed, the capsule will detach itself from the ISS on 31 May, and make the journey back to earth, where it is scheduled to make a watery landing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California.

Musk was born in Pretoria and moved to Canada in 1990, where after he relocated to the US in 1992 to study business and physics at the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship. After completing his studies, Musk realised that there were three key areas that he wanted to work in. “One was the Internet, one was clean energy, and one was space,” he is quoted as saying the in 2007 book Rocketeers by Michael Belfiore.

He is currently the CEO and Chief Designer of SpaceX, CEO and Product Architect of Tesla Motors and Chairman of SolarCity, while also being responsible for online payment site PayPal as a co-founder.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor