Private US Spacecraft Launch Set for Wednesday

A private U.S. company will launch its first spacecraft into orbit Wednesday, a key test for the future of commercial space flight as the U.S. space agency NASA prepares to retire its shuttle fleet.NASA said the Space Explorations Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, will launch its Dragon capsule early Wednesday from Cape Canaveral in the southern U.S. state of Florida.It will be the first launch under a NASA program to get supplies to the International Space Station via private companies once the shuttles stop flying next year.The Dragon capsule will not fly to the space station. Rather, it is scheduled to circle Earth twice in a flight demonstration, then splash into the Pacific Ocean.The historic test flight marks the first time a commercial spacecraft will ever attempt to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, which means the capsule will have to withstand scorching temperatures of about 2,000 degrees Celsius.If the launch is successful, the next step is for an ISS fly-by as part of a five-day mission in which the Dragon will approach the orbiting station within 10 kilometers.Later, an actual cargo and crew mission to the ISS is planned. Both are scheduled for 2011 – Voanews