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Commercial spaceflight takes big steps forward


Spaceflight had a pivotal year in 2012, not least because of the retirement of the last of NASA’s Space Shuttles. The vehicles made their last journeys to several science museums across the United States, sometimes shutting down roads as the Shuttles slowly navigated city streets atop specialized trailers. Commercial spaceflight is poised to fill some of the Space Shuttle’s roles. In October, SpaceX successfully launched the first of at least a dozen resupply capsules from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station, part of a $1.6 billion contract with NASA. The capsules and Russia’s Soyuz capsules are now the only ways to get supplies to the ISS. Meanwhile, several other commercial spaceflight companies geared up for taking tourists on short trips into orbit. Virgin Galactic plans to start flying suborbital missions for tourists this coming year, and it has more than 500 people on the waiting list for the $200,000-per-person trips.