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SpaceX launch: Falcon 9 powers into orbit

Falcon 9 roared up Friday afternoon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The SpaceX launch means that prospects for the Obama administration’s space-lift plans may have soared upward as well.

By Staff writer / June 4, 2010

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off on its debut launch from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida Friday.

Scott Audette/Reuters

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Washington

Falcon 9 made it into space – and that means prospects for the Obama administration’s space-lift plans may have soared upward as well.

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The Falcon 9, a new commercial rocket developed by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), roared up from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on Friday afternoon after several launch delays. Nine minutes into its flight, it achieved low-Earth orbit as planned, according to SpaceX executives.

The White House is counting on commercial firms such as SpaceX to carry cargo and even astronauts up to the International Space Station in years to come. That would enable the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to cut back its own expensive rocket-development efforts.

IN PICTURES: 'In orbit'

NASA administrator Charles Bolden thus was quick to congratulate the SpaceX team on their apparent success.

“SpaceX’s accomplishment is an important milestone in the commercial transportation effort and puts the company a step closer to providing cargo services to the International Space Station,” Mr. Bolden said in a statement.

Prior to the SpaceX launch, tension rose by the hour at Cape Canaveral. First an anomaly in a data feed forced a postponement. Then a boat wandered into an exclusion zone.

The Falcon 9 finally ignited and roared upward in midafternoon. Its first stage burned successfully and separated. The second stage ignited on schedule and powered into orbit the rocket’s payload – a mock-up of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, according to the company.

During a conference call with reporters Thursday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he would consider the flight a success even if only the first stage worked correctly. Falcon 9 appears to have surpassed that low expectation.

“All in all, this has been a good day for SpaceX,” launch commentator Robyn Ringuette said from the firm’s California headquarters.

Mr. Musk, the driving force behind SpaceX, is a South African-born engineer who became a multimillionaire as a co-founder of the online-payments firm PayPal. The Tesla electric sports car is another of his projects.

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