The Dragon capsule creates quite a splash
"It's just mind-blowingly awesome. I apologize, and I wish I was more articulate, but it's hard to be articulate when your mind's blown - but in a very good way."
The capsule hit the water three hours, 19 minutes and 52 seconds after the launch from Florida
The internet and space entrepreneur Elon Musk must have the biggest grin in the world right now, and who could blame him.
Not only has he seen his big rocket, the Falcon 9, work straight out of the box and complete two successful launches, but his space capsule, Dragon, has also now made an impressive debut.
After all the brickbats he's had thrown in his direction from the naysayers on Capitol Hill in recent months, it must be the sweetest feeling. Wednesday's first demonstration of Dragon appeared to go like a dream.
Musk's company, SpaceX, launched the spacecraft from Florida into low-Earth orbit atop the Falcon at 1043 EST (1543 GMT).
The capsule separated as expected at an altitude of 300km and then circled the Earth at speeds greater than 27,000km/h, before executing a re-entry.
A heatshield protected Dragon in the fiery phase of the descent.
Drogue chutes then opened on cue to slow the fall still further, followed by the deployment of the main chutes.
The splashdown occurred in the Pacific, west of Mexico a little after 1400 EST (1900). Early data suggests the capsule came down within about 800m of the notional pin-point target.
A view out of the window of Dragon during the flight
A boat picked the capsule out of the water.
This is the first time a privately developed spacecraft has been recovered safely on its return from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat achieved previously only by big government agencies.
There's a long way to go, of course. In the space business, early success is no guarantee of future performance. But so far, so good. Falcon and Dragon have been developed with help from Nasa's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (Cots) programme.
The initiative marks a new way of doing business for the agency. Instead of Nasa setting requirements and then engaging a contractor to deliver them, Cots defines capabilities and then leaves it up to the company to work out how they should be delivered.
Incentive payments are earned with every milestone passed. Before Wednesday's launch, SpaceX had completed 17 milestones and had received $253m.
Nasa believes this type of approach will lead to cheaper means of getting cargo to the space station in first instance, and then, eventually, astronauts as well.
SpaceX says it has spent just over $600m in getting to this point.
By any standard, that is considerably less than traditional, government-led programmes have cost to produce the same ends.
No-one can say for sure how this venture will eventually turn out, but the success achieved so far has got to make "old space" sit up and take notice of what "new space" is doing.
In previous blogs, I've spoken about the barrier that the high cost of launching rockets is to space activity.
Lower the cost and it becomes possible to do so much more. Elon Musk and SpaceX may just have taken a giant leap in that direction on Wednesday.
Bretton Alexander - the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a coalition of companies banking on this bright new future - lauded the achievement of SpaceX:
"It's a milestone on the path to realising the first commercial human spaceflight capability. It's historic in that it's the beginning of a paradigm shift from a government human spaceflight architecture to one that opens up human spaceflight to the private sector."
The capsule was recovered and will now undergo a detailed examination
Elon Musk's next objective now is to go to the space station next year with Dragon to deliver supplies. Ultimately, though, he wants Nasa to green-light the process of turning his capsule into a fully fledged crewship.
It was designed with that purpose in mind and Musk says the capability could be made available within three years of getting a contract to do it.
"People sometimes think that to take a cargo spacecraft and put crew in it requires this enormous amount of magical pixie dust. This is not at all the case. If there had been people sitting in the Dragon capsule today they would have had a very nice ride. They would have experienced up to 4.5Gs - about what you would see in an amusement park. Except for the escape system, its seats and some minor upgrades to the life support system - the vehicle you saw today could easily transport people."