SpaceX rocket returns to shore after historic astronaut launch (photos)

The first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the Demo-2 mission on May 30, 2020, arrives in Florida's Port Canaveral on June 2, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

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.

Related: In photos: SpaceX's historic Demo-2 test flight with astronauts

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.)

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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. 

Another view of the Falcon 9 rocket first stage arriving in Florida's Port Canaveral on June 2, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

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.

The Falcon 9 rocket that launched SpaceX's Demo-2 mission on May 30, 2020, is emblazoned with NASA's retro "worm" logo. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

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

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.