CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX launched a critical space station docking port for astronauts early Monday, along with a DNA decoder for high-flying genetic research.
As an extra treat, the company brought its leftover first-stage booster back to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a vertical landing – only the second such land landing for an orbital mission and the ultimate in recycling.
The unmanned Falcon rocket streaked through the darkness, carrying 5,000 pounds of food, experiments and equipment for the International Space Station.
It was SpaceX’s second shot at delivering a new-style docking port for NASA. The last one went up in smoke over the Atlantic last year, a rocket accident casualty.
NASA needs this new docking setup at the International Space Station before Americans can fly there in crew capsules set to debut next year. SpaceX is building astronaut-worthy versions of its Dragon cargo ships, while Boeing – which makes these docking ports – is working on a crew capsule called Starliner. The pair would dock to this ring and another due to fly in a year.
The Dragon and its latest shipment are due Wednesday at the 250-mile-high outpost.
NASA space station program manager Kirk Shireman expected to be “sweating bullets without a doubt” at liftoff, as always. He said all the cargo is precious, but really wants this docking port “up there safe and sound.”
SpaceX, meanwhile, had its sights not only on orbit, but also on the ground.
SpaceX brought its leftover first-stage booster back to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just a couple miles from where it lifted off. The company has now pulled off five vertical booster landings since December, three on an ocean platform and two on land.
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