It may not have been carrying any passengers, but at 3.44am, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket set off to resupply the International Space Station as, for the first time, NASA turns its attention to the private sector, having ended the space shuttle program in 2004.
The commercial SpaceX plant in Los Angeles is in the process of building a fleet of rockets, intended to transport cargo to the space station, and eventually passengers. Professor Chris Riley of Lincoln University described the launch as “the first step towards the commercialisation of human space flight”.
The spacecraft, which is owned by billionaire Elon Musk, who also co-founded Paypal, will be received by the six astronauts currently residing on the International Space Station. SpaceX is the first of several US competitors to attempt a launch, with the intention of achieving US access to space for human travellers by 2015.