On March 14, 2002, Elon Musk, one of the so-called "PayPal Mafia," switched gears, turning to private space exploration for his next career. Now, 10 years later, his company SpaceX has helped redefine space exploration, making it possible for NASA to discontinue its own launcher development program and ensuring that important cargo can still be delivered to the International Space Station.
In 2010, SpaceX launched the Falcon 9, which "achieved a nearly perfect insertion of the second stage and Dragon spacecraft qualification unit into the targeted...155-mile circular orbit," the company said.
According to SpaceX, its Falcon 1 was the first-ever liquid fueled rocket built privately that was capable of reaching Earth's orbit. In this picture, Falcon 1's upper stage engine nozzle is seen nine and a half minutes after launch and just after making it into orbit.
Perhaps SpaceX's biggest coup was winning the 2008 NASA contract that selected the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for the job of taking cargo to the International Space Station once the Space Shuttle program ended, which it did in 2011.
In this photograph, the Falcon 1 completes delivery of its initial commercial payload into Earth's orbit, the Malaysian satellite RazakSAT. In the image, it's possible to see the two halves of the satellite's faring, which protected it during launch and fell back to Earth after separating.
In 2010, according to SpaceX, "the second flight of the Falcon 9 orbits the first operational Drago spacecraft under [NASA's COTS] program, and SpaceX [became] the first private company to recover a spacecraft from Earth orbit--a feat previously only accomplished by a few nations.