That's one giant leap for something cheesy: The private spaceflight company SpaceX has revealed the "secret payload" it launched into orbit Wednesday on a historic commercial spaceflight. What was it? A wheel of cheese.
Hints of the secret cargo on SpaceX's first Dragon space capsule were rumbling even before the unmanned spaceship blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop the company's Falcon 9 rocket.
Afterward, SpaceX CEO and Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk only sweetened the mystery.
"It's kind of funny," Musk told reporters after the successful Wednesday (Dec. 8) launch. "If you like Monty Python, you'll love the secret."
The wheel of cheese launched to honor a classic skit from the British comedy show Monty Python's Flying Circus, in which actor John Cleese tries to order cheese from a cheese shop that has no cheese, but at least there's a band.
After the Dragon's successful mission, Musk said he didn't want to spoil the secret too early to avoid the chance of the space cheese wheel overshadowing the huge success of the Dragon space capsule test flight. The cheese rode on the Dragon capsule for the entire flight from launch to splashdown.
"It was a payload so secret, SpaceXers made it 'Top Secret' (think Val Kilmer 1984, not official US Government)" SpaceX officials said in a statement, referring to the comedy film "Top Secret!" about an American pop singer in East Germany.
Photos released by SpaceX show the space cheese wheel sealed in a metal cylinder, with a cover secured by bolts. The cover had a image of the "Top Secret!" film poster showing a cow wearing galoshes - a sketch from the movie.
SpaceX's Dragon space capsule became the world's first commercial spacecraft to launch into orbit and return to Earth safely. The unmanned capsule circled the Earth two times before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean 500 miles (804 km) west of Mexico.
This SPACE.com graphic of a Dragon spacecraft shows how the spacecraft can carry cargo into space.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company has a $1.6 billion deal with NASA to provide 12 cargo flights on robotic Dragon spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station once the space agency retires its space shuttle fleet next year.
Musk has said the company plans to fly more Dragon test flights in 2011, along with a flight to the space station.