SpaceX successfully launched another load of International Space Station supplies for NASA late Friday and nailed its 50th rocket landing.
The Falcon rocket blasted off with 4,300 pounds of equipment and experiments for the space station. Minutes later, the spent first-stage booster made a dramatic midnight landing back at Cape Canaveral, its return accompanied by sonic booms.
“And the Falcon has landed for the 50th time in SpaceX history!” SpaceX engineer Jessica Anderson announced amid cheers at mission control. “What an amazing live view all the way to touchdown.”
The Dragon capsule, meanwhile, hurtled toward a Monday rendezvous with the space station.
It’s the 20th space station delivery for SpaceX, which has launched nearly 100,000 pounds of goods to the orbiting outpost and returned nearly that much back to Earth since it began shipments in 2012. Northrop Grumman is NASA’s other commercial shipper.
SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk said it was the windiest conditions ever — 25 to 30 mph — for a booster landing at Cape Canaveral, but he wanted to push the envelope. The landing was the 50th successful touchdown of a SpaceX booster after liftoff, either on land or at sea.
“Envelope expanded,” Musk tweeted after touchdown.
The Hawthorne company’s first booster landing was in 2015, intended as a cost-saving, rocket-recycling move. Both the latest booster and Dragon capsule were recycled from previous flights.
Among the science experiments onboard Friday: an analysis of running shoe cushioning in weightlessness by Adidas, a water droplet study by Delta Faucet Co. striving for better shower head water conservation, 3-D models of heart and intestinal tissue, and 320 snippets of grapevines from Space Cargo Unlimited, the same Luxembourg start-up that sent 12 bottles of red wine to the space station in November for a year of high-altitude aging.
The Dragon also contained treats for the two Americans and one Russian at the space station: grapefruit, oranges, apples, tomatoes, Skittles, Hot Tamales and Reese’s Pieces.
As for packing the capsule for launch, no extra precautions were taken because of the global coronavirus outbreak, according to NASA. The usual stringent precautions were taken to avoid passing along any germs or diseases to the space station crew. The doctor-approved procedures have proved effective in the past, officials noted.
This is the last of SpaceX’s original Dragon cargo capsules. In the future, the company will launch supplies in second-generation Dragons, which are roomier and more elaborate versions built for crews.
The company aims to launch NASA astronauts this spring. SpaceX is also teaming up with other companies to fly tourists and private researchers to the space station, as well as high solo orbits in the next couple of years.
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