Video: After Historic Manned Launch, SpaceX Recovers Booster at Sea

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Space flight company SpaceX has successfully delivered two American astronauts to the International Space Station in low earth orbit, ending a long drought in the United States’ manned space program. It is the first manned ISS spaceflight from U.S. soil in nine years and the first astronaut delivery to the ISS conducted by a commercial company.

As part of the launch evolution, SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You recovered the rocket’s first stage – the proven Falcon 9 rocket – in an at-sea landing. Video from the scene indicates rough surface conditions at the time of touchdown, with the barge exhibiting a pronounced pitching motion. 

After the astronauts complete their rotation aboard the International Space Station (ISS), they will return to earth using the same capsule. Like the Apollo missions, the landing will be a splashdown, and the SpaceX recovery ship Go Searcher will pick up the capsule at a position off the Atlantic coast of Florida. 

The sea-based recover-and-reuse system for the Falcon 9 booster enables SpaceX to control cost and offer its services at a competitive price for commercial and government customers. Other commercial space-launch companies use disposable boosters, so the capital expense for the rocket is lost on each evolution. 

Cost control is part of NASA’s motivation in working with SpaceX and its competitors, including Boeing. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to achieve is having numerous providers that are competing against each other on costs, innovation and safety. And then NASA can be a customer, one customer of many customers, and we already know that this will save a ton of money over the long term,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN last week. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told reporters that he was elated at the mission’s success. “I’m really quite overcome with emotion on this day, so it’s kind of hard to talk, frankly,” said Musk at a press conference Saturday. “It’s been 18 years working towards this goal, so it’s hard to believe that it’s happened . . . I think this is something that’s particularly important in the United States but appeals to everyone throughout the world who has within them the spirit of exploration.”

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