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First Commercial Rocket Headed for Space Station

As it moves forward with a space program without the Space Shuttle, NASA officials Tuesday hailed the liftoff of the first commercial rocket headed to the international space station.

NASA announced that SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft had successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 3:44 a.m. The Falcon 9 was originally scheduled to lift off on Saturday but the launch was scrapped after an engine problem was detected.

"Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start."

After performing a series of procedures to test its systems, the Dragon capsule will do a drive by of the International Space Station on Thursday before attempting to dock on Friday. If the Dragon succeeds, it will be the first time a commercial company will have managed to connect with the space station, NASA said.

With the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, NASA is hoping that commercial companies will be able to provide spacecraft that can eventually carry astronauts into space.

"Partnering with U.S. companies such as SpaceX to provide cargo and eventually crew service to the International Space Station is a cornerstone of the president's plan for maintaining America's leadership in space," White House science and technology adviser John Holdren said in a statement. "This expanded role for the private sector will free up more of NASA's resources to do what NASA does best -- tackle the most demanding technological challenges in space, including those of human space flight beyond low Earth orbit."

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