WASHINGTON: NASA head Charles Bolden has hailed a "new era" in exploration after the launch of the first cargo delivery to the space station Tuesday by a private company.
On board the California-based company's own Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon capsule rocketed into the sky from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
In his reaction over the launch, Bolden said: "Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration... The significance of this day cannot be overstated; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time.
"And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start."
The Falcon rocket, topped by an unmanned Dragon freight capsule, lifted clear of its Florida pad at 7.44 GMT. The launch system has been built by California-based firm SpaceX.
The initial climb to an altitude some 340 km above the Earth lasted a little under 10 minutes.
The test flight was originally scheduled for April 30. But it had been delayed several times due to technical glitches and checks of the spacecraft's flight software.
The bell-shaped Dragon capsule is 19 feet tall and 12 feet across. It carries more than 450 kg of cargo, mostly food and clothing.
The Dragon will reach the space station Thursday and undergo a series of orbital manoeuvres and equipment checks to make sure the craft can be controlled.