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Two hours after the capture, the crew attached the Dragon to the space station as the congratulations poured in.

“Everyone who is working to push forward the space frontier recognizes that such a mission is a massive challenge, and I join the world in lauding this important accomplishment,” said Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company that is holding a seat for Musk aboard its SpaceShipTwo.

“Nearly 43 years after we first walked on the moon, we have taken another step in demonstrating continued American leadership in space,” said Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step onto the moon.

The capsule— 19 feet tall and 12 feet across — is carrying 1,000 pounds of supplies on this unprecedented test flight. The crew starts unpacking Saturday and will have just under a week to unload the food, clothes and other contents.

After this test flight, SpaceX — officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — has a contract to make a dozen delivery runs. It is one of several companies vying for NASA’s cargo business and a chance to launch Americans from U.S. soil.

Rival Orbital Sciences Corp. is shooting for its own supply run by year’s end.

President Barack Obama is pushing commercial ventures in orbit so NASA can concentrate on grander destinations like asteroids and Mars. Obama’s chief scientific adviser, John Holdren, called Friday’s linkup “an achievement of historic scientific and technological significance.”

“It’s essential we maintain such competition and fully support this burgeoning and capable industry to get U.S. astronauts back on American launch vehicles as soon as possible,” Holdren said in a statement.

Without the shuttle, NASA astronauts must go through Russia, an expensive and embarrassing situation for the U.S. after a half-century of orbital self-sufficiency. Once companies master supply runs, they hope to tackle astronaut ferry runs.

Musk, who founded SpaceX a decade ago and helped create PayPal, said he can have astronauts riding his Dragon capsules to orbit in three or four years. He also runs the electric car company Tesla Motors.

The space station has been relying on Russian, Japanese and European cargo ships for supplies ever since the shuttles retired. None of those, however, can bring anything of value back; they’re simply loaded with trash and burn up in the atmosphere.

The space station’s six-man crew will release the Dragon on Thursday after filling it with science experiments and equipment. It will aim for the Pacific Ocean just off the California coast.

“At the beginning of the launch, I said there were a thousand things that had to go right,” said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s commercial crew and cargo program. “Well, there still are several hundred left. But I am very confident we’ll get through it. … Today this really is the beginning of a new era in commercial spaceflight”