CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For the first time ever, a private company has launched a spacecraft into orbit and then guided it back to Earth.
The capsule belonging to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — known as SpaceX — splashed down into the Pacific on Wednesday afternoon. It was launched three hours earlier from Cape Canaveral atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA ordered up the demonstration as a first step to handing over space station supply runs and, eventually, astronaut rides to private businesses.
Until now, only governments had managed to recover spacecraft re-entering from orbit. SpaceX’s spacecraft, called Dragon, circled the Earth twice before parachuting into the Pacific upon command.