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SpaceX: From startup to NASA partner

Space Exploration Technologies, which you probably know as SpaceX, has become an improbable success story. If all goes according to plan, it will make history with Saturday afternoon’s scheduled launch of Crew Dragon. It is the first time a crewed flight will liftoff from the United States since the Space Shuttle Atlantis made its final flight in July 2011.

Space X was started by Elon Musk and it’s had its share of failures and triumphs. The spunky startup is now teamed with NASA hoping to become the first private enterprise to put men in space.

“I knew when I joined the team that NASA wanted to build a space transportation system that was reliable enough and low cost enough for people to be able to go to other planets,” said Gwynee Shotwell, president of SpaceX. “That sounded very, kind of out-of-worldly to me at that time in 2002, but I certainly understood that if we were able to achieve that, we would certainly do that hand-in-hand with NASA.”

But nothing is certain and no one will rest easy until the NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley make it to the International Space Station and are safely back on earth. Space X is mindful that a failure is a setback not just for them but for NASA and its attempt to restore human space flight from American soil.

"I've seen this company grow from roughly 10 employees to the thousands that we have now, said Shotwell. “We've grown up. It was a little wild west early on, but candidly I think that those beginnings and those roots are critically important to our success even today, when we're talking about flying people and flying other precious cargo as well."

The turning point for SpaceX was when it succeeded in its quest to build reusable rockets. That was long considered the Holy Grail of spaceflight. Ironically, that illustrates the company’s struggle. It was once a nearly impossible goal that after a string of failures became an improbable success that leads to the upcoming launch.

Both agencies are confident they have worked out the kinks. They are confident about the future and say the failures, subsequent tests, hard work and determination have them ready to fly. They acknowledge the risks.

“I’m nervous now not because I’m on camera, but because I’m about ready to fly Bob and Doug, and I’m pretty sure I will be nervous until -- there will be a little sense of relief once they’re in orbit, how’s that?" Shotwell said. “I’ll feel a little relief once they’re in orbit, feel more relief when they get to the Station. I will start sleeping again when they’re sleeping back safely on the planet, planet Earth.”


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