Click to see video report by Suzanne Presto
The California-based company, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, has managed a feat only accomplished by four governments. On Friday, it docked its spacecraft with the International Space Station.
SpaceX's Dragon capsule made history when it approached the International Space Station, becoming the first private spacecraft ever to do so. The robotic capsule free floated 10 meters away from the orbiting lab, and then was captured by the space station's robotic arm.
The news delighted NASA employees at mission control in Houston, Texas, and SpaceX employees at their headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
NASA astronaut Don Pettit, who is aboard the International Space Station, helped guide the spacecraft to the orbiting outpost.
The cargo-filled craft later docked with the orbiting lab.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was thrilled when he spoke to journalists from SpaceX headquarters. "It's just a fantastic day, and I think a great day for the country and for the world. This really is, I think, going to be recognized as a significantly historical step forward in space travel," Musk said.
NASA officials and SpaceX officials alike have praised the partnership between the private company and government agency. The U.S. space agency has invested nearly $400 million in SpaceX's commercial cargo capabilities. And SpaceX, a company that Musk founded a decade ago, developed the reusable Dragon capsule in about four years.
NASA's International Space Station program manager, Mike Suffredini, wore a blazer and a tie as he spoke to journalists at Johnson Space Center.
"While, yes, we participated in the verification process to ensure it met our safety criteria and gave them requirements to meet when it got to within the sphere of ISS, they completely built and tested and flew this spacecraft in a manner that has really been just remarkable," he said.
It was a less formal atmosphere at SpaceX. Musk, wearing a black tee-shirt and SpaceX track jacket, high-fived the chief of NASA's commercial cargo program.
"I'd like to have a big hand for our friends at NASA who helped make this happen. Guys!," he said.
The Dragon's docking bodes well for SpaceX, which has a $1.6-billion contract with NASA to resupply the space station at least 12 times. CEO Musk says he hopes to have people travel aboard the Dragon within three years.
"I'm really excited because this was a crucial step and having achieved this step, it makes the things in the future and the ultimate path toward humanity becoming a multi-planet species much, much more likely," Musk said.
The Dragon capsule is set to depart the space station and splash down in the Pacific Ocean May 31. NASA is looking to private companies to handle low-Earth orbit transportation so the agency can focus on developing spacecraft that can venture to asteroids or Mars.