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Private Rocket Has Successful First Flight.

Matt Stroshane/Getty Images

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX for short, launched the 154-foot, 735,000-pound Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, heading east over the Atlantic. The nine first-stage engines ignited at 2:45 p.m. and burned for three minutes before dropping into the ocean while the second-stage engines burned about six minutes to place a dummy payload capsule almost perfectly into the target orbit 155 miles above the Earth.

“We achieved 100 percent of our objectives on the mission,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive.

The launching was pushed back almost four hours after the countdown hit a few snags, including a delay to fix a problem in the rocket’s self-destruct system and a last-minute abort, at 1:30 p.m., because of an engine reading outside the acceptable range. SpaceX engineers reset the systems and resumed the countdown before the launching window closed at 3 p.m.

The success was a major boon to those supporting President Obama’s proposal to turn the launching of astronauts over to private companies.

SpaceX is aiming to launch a second Falcon 9 this summer to demonstrate its capabilities for NASA before it gets the go-ahead to take cargo and supplies to the International Space Station. That flight will include an operational version of the Dragon capsule, which will hold cargo and, eventually, astronauts. That capsule would not go to the space station but would demonstrate orbital maneuvers and return to Earth.

SpaceX won a $278 million contract from NASA in 2006 for the demonstration flights, and, if successful, it would move on to a $1.6 billion contract for 12 flights to take supplies to the space station.

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