The future of the space travel will undergo a crucial test Tuesday when the first privately owned spaceship attempts a launch into orbit.
If it succeeds, SpaceX's Dragon capsule will then try to reenter the atmosphere - also a first for a nongovernment-owned spacecraft.
The outcome of the launch will play a vital role in determining the direction of U.S. space travel as NASA looks to private companies to fill in the gap as the space shuttle program is put into mothballs next year.
"[It is] a huge thing, gigantic, historic," TV science host Bill Nye told AOL News. "It may very well lead to everyday people having access to space."
Other commercial firms - most notably Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic - have achieved suborbital flight, but this would be the first to break free of the atmosphere.
SpaceX - founded by PayPal guru Elon Musk - signed a $1.6 billion contract with NASA in December 2008 to conduct 12 resupply missions to the International Space Station.
A second rocket-building company, Orbital Sciences Corp., has a similar $1.9 billion deal with NASA.
Tomorrow's test launch from Cape Canaveral will attempt to put the gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule into orbit atop an 18-story Falcon 9 rocket.
If it makes it back, it's hoped the capsule will land in the Pacific off California.
It would mark an important step in showing that private industry is technologically up to snuff to take over travel into space.
Musk, 39, said when Congress authorized the private launch in October that it set "NASA on an exciting course" while "recognizing the valuable role American companies are ready to undertake."
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