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With SpaceX launch, more than cargo is riding on space station mission (+video)

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“Anything could have gone wrong, but everything went right,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder and chief designer, referring to the solar-panel deployment during a post-launch press briefing. “There is so much hope riding on that rocket.”

The Falcon 9 is the company's bread and butter. Even before Tuesday's launch, SpaceX had about $4 billion worth of launch contracts in hand through 2017. Sixty percent of the value of those contracts comes from customers other than NASA. The Falcon 9/Dragon package also serves as the foundation for the company's ambitions to contract with NASA to ferry crews to and from the space station.

When the initial stages of the mission came off without a hitch, “people saw their handiwork in space operating as it should,” Mr. Musk said, and the emotions flowed. “For us it's like winning the Super Bowl.”

The experienced hands at NASA were just as impressed with the performance as the young Turks they mentored.

“I've had the pleasure of working down here at the Cape with a lot of fantastic teams that have put together a lot of really quality rockets and launched a lot of amazing things. There is none better than this team,” says William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, noting the quick recovery from Saturday's launch glitch.

The Dragon spacecraft is carrying just over 1,000 pounds of cargo to the station – items ranging from rations and crew clothing to ice bricks for experiment samples and cargo bags to be used on later missions. And in Dragon's case, what goes up can come down. It's the only resupply craft – current or planned – that can bring cargo back to Earth as well.

The International Space Station's crew watched the launch, which took place as the station passed 249 miles above the North Atlantic east of St. Johns, Newfoundland. With Dragon now safely on orbit, with all systems working as planned, SpaceX is preparing for a series of tests aimed at showing that the autonomous craft can operate safely in the space station's vicinity.

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