On a pleasant Sunday evening in August 2008 three hundred scientists gathered to watch their handiwork leave earth.
Their handiwork was a 70-foot rocket called Falcon 1. It stood tall on Omelek Island, a solitary spot of rock roughly 2,500 miles southwest of Honolulu. The 7.9-acre island that had formerly operated as the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site now served as launch pad for a private company called SpaceX. The scientists, a colorful mob of T-shirts and polos, gazed at the island and at their missile from across the world, in a white-walled workshop at 1 Rocket Road in Hawthorne, California.
Falcon 1 was to be the first nongovernment spacecraft to orbit the planet. If the day’s ...