The rocket that launched SpaceX's first-ever crewed mission has returned to terra firma.
That mission, called Demo-2, lifted off atop a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday (May 30) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, sending NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley toward the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Crew Dragon capsule.
About 9 minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9 first stage aced a pinpoint landing on the SpaceX drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You," which was stationed a few hundred miles off the Florida coast. The ship soon started heading back toward shore, and on Tuesday (June 2) its sea voyage came to an end: "Of Course I Still Love You," with the rocket secured to its deck, arrived at Florida's Port Canaveral, SpaceX announced via Twitter.
SpaceX commonly refurbishes and reflies Falcon 9 first stages, as well as the first stages of the company's Falcon Heavy megarocket. Such reuse is a key priority of SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, who wants to cut the cost of spaceflight dramatically enough to enable a variety of ambitious exploration feats — especially the colonization of Mars. (The one-engine Falcon 9 second stage remains expendable at the moment, but it's not nearly as expensive as the nine-engine first stage.)
After launching @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug to orbit on Crew Dragon, Falcon 9 landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship and returned to Port Canaveral pic.twitter.com/ACov1BhgXYJune 2, 2020
We perhaps cannot assume that this particular booster will fly again, however. SpaceX had not announced its fate as of the time of this writing, and it's possible the company might want to preserve it as a historic artifact. The first Falcon 9 first stage that ever landed successfully, for example, now stands outside SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
And this particular Falcon 9 has a little bit of added historic appeal beyond Saturday's exploits: Emblazoned across its body is NASA's retro "worm" logo, which was brought out of retirement for Demo-2.
Demo-2, the first orbital human spaceflight to launch from the United States since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired in 2011, is a joint SpaceX-NASA effort. The company holds a $2.6 billion contract with NASA's Commercial Crew Program to fly six operational crewed missions to the ISS, and Demo-2 is designed to fully validate Crew Dragon and the Falcon 9 for those flights.
The Crew Dragon carrying Behnken and Hurley, named Endeavour after one of NASA's old space shuttle orbiters, arrived at the ISS on Sunday (May 31). Behnken and Hurley will stay aboard the orbiting lab for one to four months; Demo-2's duration has not yet been decided.
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Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.