The weekend launch of American astronauts is significant for a variety of reasons.

It’s been nearly a decade since there’s been a NASA launch from American soil.

But what’s truly historic is that NASA for the first time has tied its manned space program to a commercial spaceship.

The SpaceX craft successfully delivered two astronauts to the Space Station, marking a new chapter in public-private ventures in space exploration.

Hopefully the new interest in space travel based on partnerships between private companies and NASA will stir excitement in Americans about exploration.

Many today didn’t get to experience the thrills, pride — and tragedies — the country experienced during the heyday of NASA space exploration. The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions of the 1960s and ‘70s mesmerized Americans.

In 1957 the Soviet Union had successfully launched the Sputnik satellite, beating America to the punch in space exploration. NASA’s robust response in racing to the moon was more than a case of bruised pride. The Soviets were adversaries with nuclear stockpiles and allowing them to outpace the United States in space travel was a legitimate security threat.

Being the first to land on the moon wasn’t just vindication for America, but set off an era of technological advances that have benefited mankind.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, has had some rough patches as it developed its rockets, but the company shined with a nearly flawless performance Saturday.

The future of NASA’s manned and unmanned programs are now tied to partnerships with private companies including SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. Private companies are demonstrating they can deliver space travel with a high level of safety at a relatively economical cost.

Taxpayer-funded development of space travel has been a good investment that provided many returns. But adequately funding NASA has grown increasingly tough in recent decades. Having corporate financial backing for space travel will benefit not only NASA but the economy and country overall. A variety of businesses will be utilizing private rockets for delivering satellites and a variety of other tasks.

The success of this latest mission should bolster the space program and create a new sense of pride and excitement for all Americans who dream of exploring the final frontier.

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