SpaceX launch scrubbed

The anticipated launch of the SpaceX rocket, slated for 4:55 a.m eastern time Saturday, was aborted at the last possible second.

The snafu almost immediately prompted questions as to whether the private sector is ready to take on the momentous challenges of a space program, although given the big NASA Space Shuttle disasters, that criticism seems a bit premature. SpaceX was co-founded and backed by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk who also co-founded PayPal (s ebay) and Tesla Motors.

But, proponents said this is a setback, not a disaster. Computer systems detected a combustion issue in one of the rocket’s nine engines and shut down the mission as the countdown hit zero.

“We aborted with purpose,” said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell according to AP reports. “It would be a failure if we were to have lifted off with an engine trending in this direction … The software did what it was supposed to do.”!/elonmusk/status/203773618222678016

As the U.S. dismantled the space shuttle program, eyes turned to the private sector for funding and know-how to continue space missions. SpaceX’s goal is to ferry cargo and eventually people to the International Space Station. To date such missions have only been accomplished by the U.S., Russia, Europe and Japan.

In the U.S. other companies pursuing some aspect of space travel include Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada. And then there’s Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which plans to offer suborbital spaceflights as early as next year. The company is already booking reservations either directly or through its Accredited Space Agents at a mere $200,000 a pop.

Image courtesy of NASA TV