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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A private company launched a spacecraft Wednesday in a bold demonstration test for NASA that could lead to a space station supply run next year.
The Falcon 9 rocket, owned by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., blasted into a clear, chilly morning sky, carrying a capsule named Dragon. The company, known as SpaceX, aimed to place the capsule in orbit and then bring it back to Earth three hours later.
It will be the first time a commercial business tries to recover a spacecraft re-entering from orbit. So far, only governments have accomplished this.
SpaceX intends for Dragon to circle the world twice, then parachute into the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles off the Mexican coast. The spacecraft carried thousands of patches for company employees; no official payload was required for this test.
The flight had been scheduled for Tuesday, but was delayed to repair cracks in the upper-stage rocket nozzle. The rocket stands at 158 feet, about the height of the shuttle's external fuel tank.
NASA is hiring companies like SpaceX to haul supplies to the International Space Station following next year's shuttle retirement. Taxi trips for astronauts may follow.
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