For the first time in history, a private space company has launched a spacecraft into orbit, had that reenter the extreme conditions and return to Earth – safely. Space Exploration Technologies Inc., based out of Hawthorne, California launched the second of its Falcon 9 rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 40 in Florida. The launch took place on the second attempt of the day at 10:43 a.m. EDT. The launch vehicle powered the company’s Dragon spacecraft into orbit, where it orbited the Earth and then reentered the atmosphere, landing off the coast of Southern California at around 2 p.m. EDT.
On board Dragon were two interesting payloads. The first was mission patches which will be given to members of the company and others. The second was kept under ‘wraps’ until today – cheese. SpaceX had sealed a large cheese wheel into a special container and enclosed it within the new spacecraft. The wheel of La Brouere Cheese is in reference to a Monty Python sketch about a cheese shop.
Followers of aerospace news were buzzing about the secret nature of this payload. It turns out the payload was actually – ‘Top Secret.’ Not so much government security as Val Kilmer movie from 1984. The lid of the canister that carried the cheese had some imagery from the film on it.
To date, sending craft to orbit and returning them to Earth was the domain of major companies – SpaceX has demonstrated the viability of both their Dragon spacecraft and the fact that massive budgets are not required to accomplish this feat. SpaceX is under contract to fly at least 12 cargo missions to and from the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract for NASA. Both the Falcon 9 rocket as well as the Dragon spacecraft were designed to potentially carry astronauts. SpaceX has stated its intent to one day accomplish this objective.