PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – The SpaceX rocket booster used to launch NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on their mission to the International Space Station, making history by being the first private rocket to do so, headed back into Port Canaveral Tuesday.
The Falcon 9 rocket booster landed at sea on the droneship Of Course I Still Love You about 10 minutes after launching the Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit Saturday afternoon.
The rocket hardware and its ride began gliding into the Port just after 2 p.m. Sky 6 was there as the tug boat and droneship made its way into the jetty.
Behnken and Hurley successfully arrived at the ISS Sunday. The SpaceX launch marked the first time a private company has launched humans to orbit and the first time Americans have launched from U.S. soil since 2011.
After launch, the booster landed off Florida’s Coast but Crew Dragon continued on with the astronauts taking about 19 hours to reach the space station.
Behnken and Hurley are the first astronauts to launch on Falcon 9. Hurley, a veteran of the Space Shuttle Program, described Falcon 9 as a “pure flying machine.”
Hurley said he and Behnken both felt the difference when the Falcon 9 first and second stage separated during launch. The first stage is what returned to Port Canaveral Tuesday.
Hurley said both astronauts knew they hit Mach 1 by feeling alone.
“We didn’t even need to look at the speed, you could tell just by how the rocket felt,” Hurley said.
It takes about four days for the booster to make its way back to the Space Coast, where it docks at Port Canaveral, passing cruise ships and restaurants along the way. SpaceX then uses a giant crane to lift the rocket off the ship and take it back for refurbishment. The company launches, lands and re-launches its boosters to drive down the cost of spaceflight. So far, SpaceX has re-used a booster as many as five times.
It’s unclear when or if SpaceX plans to re-fly this particular booster. The booster is special for its historic flight and even has the throwback NASA worm logo on the side.
SpaceX erected the first booster it ever landed at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California.