It appears that the inaugural launch of the Falcon 9 was a success, in that it appeared to place its demonstration payload into orbit. (SpaceX hasn’t released full details about the 2:45 pm EDT launch yet, so we’ll have to wait until later to get confirmation the Dragon mockup is in orbit, and if so, its parameters. [SpaceX has now confirmed they came within about one percent of both perigee and apogee on the orbit.]) Some members of Congress didn’t waste time commenting on the launch, even if they weren’t necessary effusive in their praise.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, released a brief statement about the launch that might best be catagorized as “damned with faint praise”:
This first successful test flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is a belated sign that efforts to develop modest commercial space cargo capabilities are showing some promising signs. While this test flight was important, the program to demonstrate commercial cargo and crew transport capabilities, which I support, was intended to enhance not replace NASA’s own proven abilities to deliver critical cargo and humans to low Earth orbit. Make no mistake, even this modest success is more than a year behind schedule, and the project deadlines of other private space companies continue to slip as well. This test does not change the fact that commercial space programs are not ready to close the gap in human spaceflight if the space shuttle is retired this year with no proven replacement capability and the Constellation program is simultaneously cancelled as the President proposes.
Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), whose district includes KSC, released this statement (not yet on her web site):
The successful test launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is a significant step in the development of the commercial space industry. There is no doubt that commercial spaceflight will play an important role in the future of our efforts in space, and I believe private companies can bring new job opportunities for the Space Coast’s highly-skilled workforce. But we must both support the emerging commercial space industry and ensure a robust, NASA-led human spaceflight program in order to maintain our international leadership in space and keep our economy strong. I will continue fighting at every opportunity to minimize the human spaceflight gap, protect jobs, and ensure a bright future for the Space Coast.
Update 6pm: Elon Musk had this response to Sen. Hutchison’s statement in a post-launch teleconference with reporters. “I don’t understand why she’s trying to hurt a Texas company. We do all of our engine development and testing in Texas. We’re one of the fastest growing employers in Texas. Why is she trying to hurt a Texas company? That’s wrong, and the people of Texas ought to be aware of that.”
Musk also noted that the successful launch “bodes very well for the Obama plan. It really helps vindicate the approach that he’s taking.” He later qualified that a little bit, saying that the success “vindicates the president’s plan to some degree” but that “it doesn’t show with unequivocal accuracy that it’s correct.”
Update 7:30 pm: POLITICO has some feedback from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), long a vocal critic of the commercial spaceflight focus of the new NASA plan. He doesn’t appear to be exactly convinced of SpaceX’s capabilities after one launch:
Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, whose state of Alabama is also a NASA stronghold, further decried the launch as a display merely replicating what “NASA accomplished in 1964.”
“Belated progress for one so-called commercial provider must not be confused with progress for our nation’s human space flight program,” Shelby said. “As a nation, we cannot place our future space flight on one fledgling company’s definition of success.”
The article also notes that the launch was praised by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who said it showed that the company will be “full operation delivering cargo to the International Space Station a year from now.” Musk mentioned in the post-launch press conference that he received a call after the launch from Nelson, who was “very excited”, Musk said.