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Privately owned rocket ready for maiden voyage

The Falcon 9 rocket, built by Space Exploration Technologies, could make its first test as soon as May 28. It could be modified to carry people into orbit, company officials said.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 Vertical waits to be launched from a pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Courtesy SpaceX via Los Angeles Times/MCT/Newscom/File

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A brand new rocket that may one day launch the first commercial spaceship to carry people to orbit could make its first test as soon as May 28 according to the U.S. Air Force, SPACE.com has learned.

The Falcon 9 rocket, built by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., already has a contract with NASA to haul cargo to the International Space Station. Eventually, it could be modified to launch humans as well, company officials said.

"We've been thinking about crew from the very beginning," said Ken Bowersox, SpaceX vice president of astronaut safety and mission assurance.

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But for now, the Falcon 9 rocket's upcoming unmanned flight test is the next step. The launch debut from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station had been tentatively slated for May 23, but will likely be pushed back a bit until safety managers can approve the rocket's emergency destruct system.

"I think we're getting really close," Bowersox told SPACE.com. Bowersox is a former NASA astronaut who flew four space shuttle missions and one long-duration flight to the International Space Station.

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