Elon Musk's SpaceX is on a mission to reshape the industry under the watchful eye of Nasa, reports Olivia Rudgard in Cape Canaveral
On the edge of Cape Canaveral, the Florida promontory where the Americans have been launching rockets for more than half a century, is an abandoned platform where three astronauts met their deaths in a 1967 fire, as they rehearsed a planned launch to the moon.
It's a peaceful place, where butterflies and crickets skitter across the concrete, and visitors can pay tribute to the three men who died there at a memorial furnished with marble benches bearing their names.
It's also a reminder that space has high stakes.
Since the country launched its first human astronaut Alan Shepard, in 1961 (several monkeys had gone before him), more than 20 people have been killed during missions or while preparing for launch.
The United States is approaching a new era of human space flight, with astronauts due to be launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX as part of a US$2.6 billion ($3.95b) contract to ferry them to the International Space Station.
Musk, better-known for his electric car company, Tesla, is one of a new breed of wealthy entrepreneurs reshaping the space industry.
But this second space age means Silicon Valley must work closely with Nasa and the US military, as the government seeks to make sure their missions are safe.
There have been rumours of culture clash - and as the piloted missions get closer, Nasa is keeping a close eye on its commercial partners.
Government versus commercial
Space travel has traditionally been dominated by the military and government agencies, in part because it's expensive and unpredictable.
A Cape Canaveral visit for journalists was organised ahead of a planned launch of the Falcon 9 rocket ferrying a Dragon capsule to the International Space Station, with science experiments and supplies.
Take-off is repeatedly delayed before finally happening early Saturday morning, successfully launching its cargo into orbit.
At the Cape Canaveral facility, where SpaceX leases Launch Complex 40, staff wear military uniforms and security is tight. One would expect there to be plenty of scope for a culture clash.
SpaceX did things cheaper and faster than many thought was possible. How does this sit with those used to doing things the old way?
The military teams will not admit to any ructions, at least in public.
Six days ahead of the Dragon launch, Brigadier General Douglas Schiess, the Air Force commander running the unit, says only that he likes the youthfulness of the private firms.
"We have a lot of really interesting young people that are in the business again."
He does say that the military keeps a close eye as they prepare for launches, particularly for missions carrying national security assets, such as satellites, and have the ultimate power to intervene if they don't think procedure is being followed.
"We have enlisted officer personnel that know what's supposed to take place as they prep the rocket and the satellite, and they're overseeing that. They can stop [the] operation and say, 'Hang on a second, I believe you were supposed to do this. Let's talk about that before we go on."'
But how safe is it?
In a hangar elsewhere on the Cape, the Human Spaceflight Division from the Department of Defence is prepared to rescue commercial astronauts.
Commander Lt Col Michael Thompson says the Air Force won't play this role forever.
Instead, they want to set an example, because commercial companies aren't capable of doing this themselves yet.
"Nasa's job is to make sure that the commercial providers are finding people to do as much as possible, so that when they do start putting tourists in space, there's an infrastructure, there's knowledge, there's experience in this mission to go do it on the civilian side."
One challenge of working with private firms is getting used to the different designs of their capsules. SpaceX's Dragon is taller and less stable than Boeing's Starliner.
In April there was disquiet when one of SpaceX's Crew Dragon pods, the vessels which will carry astronauts into space, exploded during tests on a launch pad in Florida.
At a press conference last Thursday, Hans Koenigsmann, who is in charge of mission assurance for the company, said the capsule had been completely destroyed, but he hoped the first manned flight would still go ahead this year, as planned.
It is still trying to work out exactly what happened.
Experts are sanguine about the incident, pointing out that such challenges are not unusual as engineers push the boundaries of space exploration.
"This is why we test," said Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine after the explosion.
SpaceX is generally well-regarded, and its engineering and testing procedures considered robust.
It has hired enormously talented engineers, and its mission success rate this year is now five from five, barring one vehicle lost to rough seas last month.
In situations like this, Musk's unusual communication habits, such as sending updates and details about launches from his own Twitter account, so controversial at Tesla, have actually been helpful, says Jennifer Lopez, a space technology expert who works with Nasa to encourage under-represented groups into data science.
"I think that's one of the things that is appreciated, is the transparency from him," she says.
Nasa has had to hold the line on one thing - drugs.
It launched a cultural review of both Boeing and SpaceX after Musk smoked cannabis on a podcast last year.
His pot-smoking may have caused some initial "disbelief", says Lopez, but hasn't had a significant impact on the business.
Indeed, the US government awarded the company another US$297 million contract to launch satellites for the Air Force in February.
There's a good reason for that - the technology works.
A national endeavour
To watch SpaceX's reusable Falcon boosters land elegantly back on Earth after launching a satellite into space or delivering a capsule to the International Space Station, as it did on Saturday, is a sight which defies all logic.
Your brain insists it should not be possible to land a rocket on its end, precisely in the right place, on a launch pad in the sea. But it is.
There's also a political impetus, says Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, of which SpaceX is a member.
The current Trump administration "really gets it", he says.
"Space is an exciting field, but it's also very nationalistic. It's a great pride for our country to be the world's leader in space technology and exploration."
All of this has helped make SpaceX a US$30b company, with US$2.4b in private funding and hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts.
The shuttle programme was cancelled in part due to concerns about safety.
Could this new space revolution end as soon as it has begun, if tragedy strikes?
Stallmer thinks it would be less catastrophic.
"I think there's a greater sense of risk on government programmes," he says.
Boeing and SpaceX both have contracts with Nasa to send astronauts into space from the US for the first time since 2011.
After that, both companies, as well as Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin and a handful of others, are aiming to start offering seats to tourists.
"We'll be going to Mars. We'll be going back to the Moon. I absolutely see us doing that," says Lt Col Dave Mahan, part of Thompson's astronaut rescue unit.
"I keep telling my kids, 'You're at the age that you'll be the ones doing it. So I'll make sure it's safe, and you can do something cool."'