Cape Canaveral | SpaceX has resumed station deliveries for NASA, and in a double triumph, successfully landed its booster rocket on an ocean platform for the first time. The unmanned Falcon rocket soared into a clear afternoon sky yesterday, carrying a full load of supplies for the International Space Station as well as a futuristic pop-up room.
After sending the Dragon capsule on its way, the first-stage booster peeled away. Instead of dropping into the Atlantic like leftover junk, the 15-story booster steered to a vertical touchdown on the barge, named Of Course I Still Love You. Hundreds of SpaceX employees gathered outside the company’s glassed-in mission control in Hawthorne, California, cheered wildly, jumped up and down, and chanted, USA, USA, USA!.
Absolutely incredible, said a SpaceX commentator. The crowd is going a little nuts here, as expected. Although the company managed to land a spent booster rocket at Cape Canaveral in December, touchdowns at sea had proven elusive, with several attempts ending in explosions on the floating barge.
SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk wants to ultimately reuse rocket parts to shave launch costs. This marks SpaceX’s first shipment for the space station in a year. A launch accident halted cargo flights last June. The Dragon and its 7,000 pounds of freight including the attention-grabbing payload should reach the space station on Sunday.
Bigelow Aerospace is providing the expandable compartment, which swells to the size of a small bedroom. It’s a testbed for orbiting rental property that the Nevada company hopes to launch in four years, and also for moon and Mars habitats. Traffic has been heavy lately at the 260-mile-high complex. NASA’s other commercial shipper, Orbital ATK, made a delivery at the end of March, then Russia just last weekend.
SpaceX’s Dragon will join three cargo carriers and two crew capsules already parked there. Besides a bevy of biological experiments including 20 mice for a muscle study, and cabbage and lettuce plants for research as well as crew consumption the Dragon capsule holds the pioneering pod.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is a 21st-century reincarnation of NASA’s TransHab, which never got beyond blueprints and ground mock-ups in the 1990s. Hotel entrepreneur Robert Bigelow bought rights to TransHab, then persuaded NASA to host BEAM at the space station.
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