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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches Dragon to orbit (photos)

The first commercial flight bound for the International Space Station marks a new era of space exploration.

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James Martin
James Martin is the Managing Editor of Photography at CNET. His photos capture technology's impact on society - from the widening wealth gap in San Francisco, to the European refugee crisis and Rwanda's efforts to improve health care. From the technology pioneers of Google and Facebook, photographing Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, to the most groundbreaking launches at Apple and NASA, his is a dream job for any documentary photography and journalist with a love for technology. Exhibited widely, syndicated and reprinted thousands of times over the years, James follows the people and places behind the technology changing our world, bringing their stories and ideas to life.
James Martin
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New era of space flight

A new era of space flight roared to life today at 3:44:38 a.m. EDT, when SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket erupted from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The first commercial flight, an unmanned cargo ship, bound for the International Space Station marks a new era of space exploration.

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Falcon 9 just before launch

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft sits atop a Falcon 9 rocket on the SpaceX launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, moments before liftoff this morning. The journey, if successful, will make SpaceX the first commercial company to dock a spacecraft at the International Space Station.

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The crowd cheers

The crowd watching the launch in the early morning hours cheers as Falcon 9 lights up the sky.

Following the launch, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk said: "The vehicle’s first stage performed nominally before separating from the second stage. The second stage successfully delivered the Dragon spacecraft into its intended orbit. This marks the third consecutive successful Falcon 9 launch and the fifth straight launch success for SpaceX."

Now Dragon heads toward the International Space Station, with an expected rendezvous late this week. Before joining with the space outpost, Dragon will undergo a series of tests to ensure the craft is adequately prepared to berth with the station.

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Falcon 9 rocket at the launch pad

In the next few days, Dragon’s sensors and flight systems are subjected to a series of complicated tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the space station. These tests include maneuvers and systems checks in which the vehicle comes within 1.5 miles of the station. NASA will then decide if Dragon is allowed to attempt berthing with the station. If so, Dragon approaches, is captured by station’s robotic arm, and attached to the station, a feat that requires extreme precision.

See more photos of SpaceX's launch preparations.

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Ignition

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket moments after ignition on the SpaceX launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

See more photos of SpaceX's launch preparations.

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Falcon 9 rocket's 9 engines fire

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket's nine engines roar to full power during launch from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

See more photos of SpaceX's launch preparations.

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Out with a roar

The Falcon 9 rocket's engines ignite on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

See more photos of SpaceX's launch preparations.

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Falcon 9 takes flight

All nine engines of the Falcon 9 rocket firing, the first private mission bound for the International Space Station begins.

See more photos of SpaceX's launch preparations.

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Solar panels deploy

Here's a view from SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft looking outward at one of two solar array panels in the process of deploying.

See more photos of SpaceX's launch preparations.

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