Is America’s space program going private?

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The Dragon spacecraft built by SpaceX

The Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station

Now that America’s space shuttles have gone from technological marvels to, quite literally, museum pieces, the United States is increasingly turning to private industry to keep the country a space-faring nation.

One big step in the commercialization of the space program is happening this weekend. NASA has given the green light for a Hawthorne-based rocket company, SpaceX, to launch its free-flying,  unmanned spacecraft to the International Space Station on Saturday. If the mission is successful it will be the first privately operated spacecraft to dock with the orbital outpost. SpaceX, which has also built the Falcon 9 launch rocket,  is operating under a $1.6 billion deal with NASA. Looking ahead, the company hopes to built a global client list of companies of both national space agencies and businesses needing to get things off the planet.

The Dragon spacecraft built by SpaceX

Looking ahead, SpaceX is working on a version of its craft, called Dragon, that will be able to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. Many aerospace observers hope these efforts will help revive the glory days of Southern California’s aerospace economy.