Falcon 9 rocket makes landmark flight

A rocket, developed by Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., made its maiden flight Friday, boosting prospects for privately funded space vehicles to one day take astronauts and cargo into orbit.

The nine-engine Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 11:45 a.m. PDT after several earlier attempts were aborted because of technical anomalies.

The booster is a major contender to assume NASA's responsibilities in hauling astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station in the wake of President Obama's budget proposal to outsource space travel to private businesses.

NASA has invested more than $200 million in seed money to help the company develop and build the rocket, and has an additional $1.6 billion on the table with a contract for 12 flights to transport cargo in the coming years.

Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX after making a fortune in Silicon Valley, had said in a pre-launch teleconference Thursday that he estimated the chances at 70% to 80%. SpaceX's first rocket -- the smaller, single-engine Falcon 1 -- failed three times before it carried a satellite into space."This is very much a test flight of the Falcon 9," Musk said. "It's analogous to sort of the beta testing of some new technology.”

-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: The SpaceX Falcon 9 test rocket lifts off of pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Matt Stroshane / Getty Images

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