LOS ANGELES – In the historic launch of its Dragon space capsule Wednesday, Hawthorne, Calif.,-based rocket venture SpaceX didn’t carry astronauts or cargo into outer space.

But it did transport a wheel of LeBrouere cheese.

The company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., said Thursday that it lifted a “secret” payload into low Earth orbit aboard its cone-shaped Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX said the choice was a nod to the British comedy troupe Monty Python and its famous Cheese Shop skit.

In a news conference after the launch, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk refused to say what the secret payload was, fearing that the joke would overshadow the momentous feat in the next day’s headlines.

The launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., marked the first time that a private company has developed and lifted a space capsule into orbit and have it survive a fiery re-entry.

In a half-century of spaceflight, only five countries and one intergovernmental agency have been able to launch a spacecraft into orbit and have it successfully re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere: the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, China, Japan, India and the European Space Agency.

It also may have been the first spaceflight of cheese. The record books don’t say.