A New Reporter's Firsthand Account

I had never seen a rocket launch firsthand until last week. Then I witnessed the future of American spaceflight.

I had traveled down to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to cover the launch of the commercial space company SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule. The spacecraft is designed to carry cargo to the International Space Station for NASA – and eventually to carry astronauts, too.

If SpaceX was successful on this test liftoff, it would be the first time a private company launched and re-entered a spacecraft from orbit – an important milestone for the burgeoning commercial sector.

On a more personal note, it was going to be my first time seeing (and writing about) a rocket launch. I had come to work as a reporter for SPACE.com in April, and in early November I was sent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center to cover STS-133 – the space shuttle Discovery's final flight. Bad weather and issues with the shuttle's external fuel tank delayed the launch. So, after 10 days of biding my time at Cape Canaveral in the vain hope of seeing a shuttle launch (it is now planned for early February), I flew back to New York with my most exciting personal anecdote being that one day I feared an attack by a group of vultures that had swarmed around some bread left in the parking lot of the NASA press site.

After that, my anticipation of seeing a launch was even stronger. Plus, I was starting to get teased by some of my colleagues, who joked that every launch I was assigned to cover seemed to eventually get scrubbed.