An unmanned, privately-owned Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule blasted off from Cape Canaveral in the US at 02:35 CET on Monday. It is on a mission to resupply the International Space Station
NASA administrator, Charles Bolden, described this as “a critical event for NASA and the nation” as it returns space station cargo missions to US soil.
Following the retirement of the space shuttles last year, NASA turned to the private sector to fly freight to the station and is looking to do the same for crew transportation.
The rocket was built by Space Exploration Technologies and this is the first in a 1.6 billion dollar (1.2 billion euro) 12-flight contract to deliver cargo for NASA. The 48-metre long rocket is powered by nine oxygen and kerosene-burning engines.
Carrying food, clothing and science experiments the freighter is expected to reach the space station, in orbit 400 kilometres above the earth, on Wednesday.
Unlike the Russian, European and Japanese freighters, Dragon is designed to return to Earth intact rather than burn up in the atmosphere. This will allow it to bring back equipment from the station, a capability which has been missing since the retirement of the shuttles.