On November 14, aerospace company SpaceX is slated to launch humans on the first operational mission to the International Space Station, ending nine years of NASA’s reliance on Russia to launch U.S. astronauts into space. But a mere 14 years ago, on a tiny Pacific atoll in the Marshall Islands, the upstart outfit was just trying to get off the ground.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful operational rocket, successfully launched its first commercial payload into space in 2019. Three Falcon 9 rocket cores, together with 27 Merlin engines, generate the equivalent thrust of approximately 18,747 aircraft.
Founded in 2002 by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, SpaceX was initially operating from a former U.S. government launch facility on Omelek Island, where the proximity to the Equator—the region of Earth that spins fastest—gives rockets a boost up into orbit. While the unproven company was well positioned geographically,