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Congressional critics of the new NASA plan offered SpaceX lukewarm praise, at best. The launch “is a belated sign that efforts to develop modest commercial space cargo capabilities are showing some promising signs,” said Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee. “This test does not change the fact that commercial space programs are not ready to close the gap in human spaceflight if the space shuttle is retired this year with no proven replacement capability and the Constellation program is simultaneously canceled, as the president proposes.”

Others in the industry sided with the White House, including Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation. “Today’s SpaceX launch strengthens my hope that commercial space companies will at long last remove the cost barrier that slows our exploration of the solar system,” he said.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden praised the launch. “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,” he said in a statement issued shortly after the successful launch. “This launch of the Falcon 9 gives us even more confidence that a resupply vehicle will be available after the space shuttle fleet is retired.”

SpaceX is not the only company interested in carrying cargo and crews to the ISS. Orbital Sciences Corporation, with a similar COTS award from NASA, is developing its own launch vehicle, the Taurus II, and cargo spacecraft, called Cygnus. Orbital plans to perform a test flight of the Taurus II and Cygnus in the first half of 2011. United Launch Alliance, the joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that manufactures the Atlas and Delta rockets, has also expressed interest in upgrading those rockets to be able fly crewed spacecraft.

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Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux
Video by Chris Thompson, SpaceX, edited by Brittany Sauser

Tagged: Computing, NASA, SpaceX, launch vehicle, NASA budget, rockets, Falcon 9, NASA COTS

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