Wires

UPDATE 1-SpaceX rocket blasts off for space station

(Updates with quotes, adds details)

* Flight restores U.S. access to orbital outpost * SpaceX Dragon capsule carrying supplies * Slated to reach space station on Wednesday By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Oct 7 (Reuters) - An unmanned,privately owned Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule blastedoff from Cape Canaveral on Sunday on a mission to restore a U.S.supply line to the International Space Station after theretirement of the space shuttle.

Powered by nine oxygen and kerosene-burning engines, the157-foot (48-meter) tall rocket, built by Space ExplorationTechnologies, lifted off from its seaside launch pad at CapeCanaveral Air Force Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT (0035 GMT Monday).

"This was a critical event for NASA and the nation tonight,"said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Just over a year afterthe retirement of the space shuttle, we have returned spacestation cargo-resupply missions to U.S. soil."

The Falcon booster, flying for the fourth time, streakedthrough balmy, partly cloudy skies as it headed east over theAtlantic Ocean toward the station's orbit, some 250 miles (400km) above Earth.

Despite a problem with one engine during the 10-minute climbto orbit, the capsule was delivered exactly where it wasintended to go, company president Gwynne Shotwell toldreporters.

"Falcon 9 was designed to lose engines and still makemissions, so it did what it was supposed to do," Shotwell said."We will learn from our flights and continue to improve thevehicle."

The capsule is scheduled to reach the $100-billion spacestation - a project of 15 nations - on Wednesday.

The company, also known as SpaceX, made a successful practicerun to the station in May, clearing the way for it to beginworking off a $1.6 billion, 12-flight contract to deliver cargofor NASA.

The Dragon cargo capsule carries about 882 pounds (400 kg) offood, clothing, science experiments and supplies for thestation. The gear includes a freezer to transport medicalsamples and a rare treat for the station crew - chocolatevanilla swirl ice cream.

With the retirement of the space shuttles last year, NASAturned to the private sector to develop and fly freight to thestation and is looking to do the same for crew transportation.

"Every time they have a successful mission, that gives thenon-believers one more opportunity to get onboard and root forus and help us make this thing happen," Bolden said.

Unlike the Russian, European and Japanese freighters thatservice the station, Dragon is designed to return to Earthintact, rather than burn up in the atmosphere, so it can bringback research and equipment from the station. That returncapability has been missing since the shuttle's retirement.

Dragon is scheduled to depart the station on Oct. 28 and tosplash down into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

SpaceX has a separate NASA contract to upgrade its Dragoncapsule to carry humans as well. Boeing and privately ownedSierra Nevada Corp also have NASA backing for space taxi designwork.

In addition to SpaceX, NASA has also hired Orbital SciencesCorp to fly cargo to the station. Orbital's Antares rocket isexpected to make a debut flight later this year.

(Editing by David Brunnstrom and Philip Barbara)

Keywords: SPACE SPACEX/