September 28, 2008: SpaceX Launches 1st Private Spacecraft

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A Brief History

On September 28, 2008, the history of space exploration reached a new milestone when SpaceX, a private company, launched their Falcon 1 unmanned spacecraft, the first private spacecraft launched into orbit.

Breaking News: On Saturday, May 30, 2020, SpaceX and NASA made history together when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried 2 American astronauts into space up to the International Space Station in a successful launch and flight, the first manned flight from the United States in a decade.  This is the first time a private company has ever taken NASA astronauts into space.  The crew capsule was also a SpaceX design, the Crew Dragon.

Digging Deeper

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is the brainchild of PayPal and Tesla Motors entrepreneur and  genius Elon Musk.  Formed in 2002, the goal of the company is to develop readily reusable rockets and both manned and unmanned spacecraft, with the ultimate goal of shuttling people to and from a colony on Mars.  Musk has stated that he believes the goal is attainable by around 2035.

SpaceX has developed the Falcon 1 and the Falcon 9 reusable launch vehicles, and has sent their Dragon spacecraft loaded with cargo to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).  The Dragon is intended to be the basis for the company’s manned spacecraft when a certified human launch escape system is developed.  So far,  SpaceX   has been used 6 times to take supplies to the ISS.

Another SpaceX project is the SES-8, the first private satellite launched into geosynchronous orbit in 2013, and in 2015 SpaceX became the first private company to send a spacecraft out of Earth orbit, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).

Musk and his associates originally approached the Russians with the idea of setting up a private space launch company, and purchase launch rockets from the Russian, but were rejected without ceremony and given unrealistic monetary terms.  Musk realized he could base his company in the United States and build his own rockets, and proceeded to do just that, establishing the company in California, eventually settling in Hawthorne.

SpaceX has performed its launches from Vandenberg AFB in California and from the Air Force facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida, but is building their own launch pad near Brownsville, Texas, as well as leasing a site in New Mexico and considering even more launch sites.  The company has grown rapidly, from only 160 employees in 2005 to around 4000 today.  In the company’s first decade, only about $1 billion was invested into developing the company and its products, with Musk himself supplying $100 million of the $200 million in private funds.  Today, the company is worth at least $12 billion and is able to underbid other private satellite launch companies.

Another recently stated proposal by Musk is a project to launch 4000 satellites into orbit in order to beam the Internet to every corner of the Earth, leaving no Internet “dead zones.”  Obviously, such an ambitious and growing company works closely with NASA in collaboration of various manned and unmanned projects.

Question for students (and subscribers): Will a trip to Mars by a manned spacecraft be in our near future?  Will the dream of colonizing the planet become reality?  If these things are to come true, it is likely that Elon Musk and SpaceX will be behind the efforts.  Do you think this goal is achievable?  Let us know what you think in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Seedhouse, Erik.  SpaceX: Making Commercial Spaceflight a Reality (Springer Praxis Books).  Praxis, 2013.

Vance, Ashlee.  Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.  Ecco, 2015.

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About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.