When government agency NASA shut down the Space Shuttle program last summer, the onus fell on private companies to return manned aircrafts into space. However, they were forced to start at square one: launching an unmanned mission, a feat never realized by a private company…until today. Fifty-five years after the Soviet government sent the first satellite, Sputnik I, into space, California-based SpaceX successfully launched its first mission at 3:44 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The SpaceX spacecraft is scheduled to deliver cargo, stored inside a capsule dubbed “Dragon,” to the International Space Station in a few days. If all goes according to plan, NASA will begin to contract further SpaceX cargo deliveries to the International Space Station, a billion-dollar triumph for SpaceX CEO and Paypal co-founder Elon Musk. With the likes of Virgin chairman Richard Branson and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also bankrolling commercial spaceflight companies, NASA could one day outsource all of its missions, even voyages to Mars.

Dragon previously launched into orbit in December 2010, briefly circling Earth before its safe return.

[via Engadget