SpaceX's Private Spacecraft Makes a Splash With Experts
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:43 a.m. EST in this photo taken Dec. 8, 2010 during the key space capsule flight test for NASA's commercial orbital space transportation program.
Credit: NASA/Alan Ault

When SpaceX launched its Dragon space capsule atop the Falcon 9 rocket today (Dec. 8) ? and retrieved it in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later ? it was a first on several levels. For SpaceX, the launch marked the inaugural voyage of the company's Dragon spacecraft.

The mission also marked the first time any private company has successfully launched and returned a commercial spacecraft from low-Earth orbit. Finally, the flight was the first mission under NASA's COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program aimed at spurring private sector development of space vehicles to carry crew and cargo to the International Space Station.

Here are what some top space experts have to say about Dragon's mission, and how it alters the landscape of commercial spaceflight. [INFOGRAPHIC: Inside Look at SpaceX's Dragon Capsule]

NASA administrator Charles Bolden:

While rocket launches from the Cape are considered a common occurrence, the historic significance of today's achievement by SpaceX should not be lost.

This is the first in a new generation of commercial launch systems that will help provide vital support to the International Space Station and may one day carry astronauts into orbit. This successful demonstration flight is an important milestone in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama and Congress, and shows how government and industry can leverage expertise and resources to foster a new and vibrant space economy.

These new explorers are to spaceflight what Lindbergh was to commercial aviation.

Scott Hubbard, former director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California:

This is further validation that a commercial venture - initially almost totally privately funded - can achieve a launch and re-entry on a schedule and at a cost much lower than typical NASA developments.

I think the SpaceX success shows that it will be possible for NASA to buy services in low Earth orbit - thereby saving money for NASA's true mission - exploring deep space!

Roger Launius, space history curator at Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum:

I was just leaving NASA HQ after a meeting this morning when the launch was about 2 minutes away. As I walked through the lobby the countdown was playing on the NASA TV monitor there so I, along with several other people, stopped and watched it take off. I heard one of the folks from the back exclaim as it cleared the launch tower, "go," and I think that symbolized better than a lot of other comments how many from the breadth of the space community feel about this effort. Its success is, without question, an important step forward.

There are many steps yet to be completed on the path to Falcon 9?s operational use. I am greatly encouraged by and applaud SpaceX?s accomplishment. I?m looking forward to future successes. Most important, I want to see this effort successfully fill much of the void left by the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the sooner that happens the happier I will be.

Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

Excellent news -- and a very important step in ensuring U.S. ability to provide logistical support to the International Space Station.

I don't know this changes the landscape dramatically ? it's another step toward achieving lower cost logistical support to low Earth orbit. It does, however, underscore the importance of flight tests. Presentations and press releases are one thing, actual hardware demonstrations are another, so the team should be very proud of what they accomplished.

Former NASA astronaut Tom Jones:

Watching the Falcon 9 rise brought a surge of excitement. Beautiful liftoff! 

NASA may get the cargo capability it's counting on to fill the gap left by the retiring shuttle. Flying Dragon atop the Falcon 9 is a fundamental step toward meeting SpaceX's cargo commitment to NASA, and in moving eventually toward safe and economical astronaut transport.

SpaceX deserves a lot of credit for duplicating their initial success and orbiting and retrieving the Dragon spacecraft. It was an ambitious flight that looked very good. NASA may make spaceflight look easy sometimes, but this was a tough flight plan to execute for a new commercial firm. SpaceX's equipment appears to have met a big technical challenge, and we'll have to look for similar business success to provide NASA with cheaper options for space cargo and astronaut transport.

Bretton Alexander, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation:

This is an historic milestone in the paradigm shift from a government space infrastructure to a private space business that will create jobs, opportunity and benefits from technology advancement. Space is difficult, but no more so than other high tech parts of our economy. It was a thrilling day.

Rick Tumlinsonn, co-founder of the Space Frontier Foundation:

This flight will go down in history as a turning point for the opening of space to regular people. It may not be Yuri Gagarin, but it is certainly the equivalent of Sputnik for commercial spaceflight!

Bill Nye, executive director of the Planetary Society:

Falcon 9 nailed it. We congratulate Elon Musk and his team on a successful launch -- another step towards commercial applications that may one day help NASA carry supplies and astronauts to low-Earth orbit. Bold endeavors like this will advance the chances for success for everyone in the Earth-orbit business.