Sept. 9, 1982: The Day Private Spaceflight Began

Conestoga launch

Launch of Conestoga 1, September 9, 1982, Matagorda Island, Texas

Space has captivated many a soul since the space race of the 1960s when various technological advances enabled millions to picture a world beyond our blue planet. Events such as the moon landing inspired the curiosity of people around the globe about this starry domain, but as time went on and budget cuts increased, the excitement began to die down. In a Smithsonian article written in the mid-1970s, space was depicted as a realm of industrial possibilities that promised to be financially rewarding in the not-too-distant future. After reading this article, David Hannah, Jr., a successful Texas real estate developer, began pursuing commercial space in an effort to reap the potential benefits and to simultaneously reinvigorate the passion for the final frontier.

On Sept. 9, 1982, Hannah’s new company, Space Services Inc. of America (SSIA), successfully launched its Conestoga I rocket from Matagorda Island, Texas. The launch marked the world’s first privately funded mission to space, and would lead to the creation of a billion dollar market for private aerospace firms. Prior to liftoff, the SSIA crew underwent the process of clearing all legal and regulatory hurdles for the launch, laying the foundation for future commercial space launches. The effort was primarily funded by Hannah, Toddie Lee Wynne, and other donors confident in their ability to succeed. Following the launch, dozens of aspiring firms entered the space business in an effort to get a portion of the substantial profits to be had, thus establishing the commercial space industry.

Today’s Space Services Holdings, Inc. (SSHI) a corporate descendant of Hannah’s original company, has conducted a dozen commercial space missions, has two spacecraft on orbit, has been competitively selected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on several occasions to define next generation commercial space weather systems, and is partnered with major aerospace companies and large, public Internet firms interested in tapping into new commercial space markets. In addition to these accomplishments, SSHI is a member of a team led by L’Garde, Inc. that was recently selected by NASA to build and fly the world’s first navigable solar sail for the $20 million mission dubbed “Sunjammer,” which is scheduled to launch in late 2014. SSHI continues to strive toward bolstering the commercial space industry to ensure that, 30 years down the road, it experiences the same significant growth that followed the Conestoga launch 30 years ago.

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One thought on “Sept. 9, 1982: The Day Private Spaceflight Began

  1. As a journalist, I covered both launches, I interviewed David Hannah and Retired Mercury Astronaut Donald K. “Deke” Slayton and sold the story several times. I recently donated my entire collection of material ( slides, negatives, mission patch, magazines) to the museum of Flight in Seattle Washington. I have an SSI group on Flickr with members who were also involved in the project.

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