Private-sector initiatives in space made history Friday when SpaceX's Dragon space capsule was grappled by and attached to the International Space Station.
SpaceX is the company bankrolled by South Africa-born billionaire Elon Musk, 41, who made his first pile selling PayPal to eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) and then founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. as well as Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA) to move into electric cars.
Now that a U.S. company has proven its ability to resupply the space station, it opens a new frontier in space and new job creation opportunities here in the U.S, said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut.
Dragon is ferrying 1,014 pounds of supplies to the space station, including food, clothing and technology products. After being unloaded by the space station's astronauts, it will be filled with 1,367 pounds of hardware and cargo to bring back to Earth.
The capsule put up by SpaceX, based in Hawthone, Calif., is unmanned. Musk has said future flights will carry people into space.
After a review ordered by President Barack Obama, NASA determined to end the U.S. manned space program in favor of unmanned activities. But it opened the doors to private companies.
Others are in the works, including one started by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), the No. 1 e-retailer, as well as XCOR Aerospace and Sierra Nevada Corp.
The private capsule was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a Falcon 9 rocket last Tuesday. Once it neared the space station on Thursday, Dragon was instructed to fly close to it, then pull away, lest there be mechanical problems.
In the Friday link, NASA astronaut Donald Petit operated a robotic arm, which grabbed Dragon from about 65 feet. Later, European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers installed it at the bottom of a node, with NASA astronaut Joe Acaba completing bolting operations about 2 ½ hours later.
Next up: the return. Dragon is scheduled to be detached on Thursday and sent back to Earth.
Tesla Motors shares fell 42 cents to $29.90 in Friday trading.