The safe landing of SpaceX's Dragon capsule, which splashed into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, marks the first-ever commercial cargo mission to and from space.
In early October, Dragon transported 882 pounds of cargo, including science experiments and biological samples, to NASA's International Space Station (a satellite that orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, according to the NASA website) as part of a contract with the space agency. On Sunday, Dragon completed the round-trip of deliveries by returning to Earth from the station with 1,673 pounds of supplies, Bloomberg reports.
“This historic mission signifies the restoration of America’s ability to deliver and return critical space station cargo,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a statement. Photographs and a time-lapse video of Dragon’s departure can be found on the SpaceX website.
Bloomberg notes that NASA has contracted at least 12 cargo missions for $1.6 billion with the private Hawthorne, California-based company, which builds and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. Founded in 2002 by billionaire entrepeneur Musk, also CEO of Tesla Motors and co-founder of PayPal, SpaceX currently employs more than 1,800 employees across the country.
Dragon's second outing to resupply the space station is planned for Jan. 18, 2013. Another private company, Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp., has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA for at least eight cargo deliveries, NBC says. The company’s Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft will take flight for the first time later this year.
"We are reminded American ingenuity is alive and well," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement after the Sunday splashdown.
In 2010, NASA shut down its human spaceflight-focused Constellation Program and its Space Shuttle Program last year due to lack of funding. In an earlier interview, NASA's Captain Mark Kelly told Inc. the agency canceled both "with the hope that small companies--like SpaceX, or Sierra Nevada, or Blue Origins--would be successful in getting people into space again. Two years ago I was skeptical, but now I think that they’re on the road to success."