Home Technology A commander’s lament on the lack of a historic SpaceX rocket

A commander’s lament on the lack of a historic SpaceX rocket

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A commander’s lament on the lack of a historic SpaceX rocket

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One of the most historic rockets in SpaceX's fleet toppled over Christmas Day on the return trip to Cape Canaveral, Florida, following its previous mission.
Enlarge / One of the historic rockets in SpaceX’s fleet toppled over Christmas Day on the return journey to Cape Canaveral, Florida, following its earlier mission.

The Falcon 9 rocket that launched NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on SpaceX’s first crew mission in 2020 launched and landed for the nineteenth and closing time simply earlier than Christmas, then tipped over on its restoration ship in the course of the journey again to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

This specific booster, recognized by the tail quantity B1058, was particular amongst SpaceX’s fleet of reusable rockets. It was the fleet chief, having tallied 19 missions over the course of greater than three-and-a-half years. Extra importantly, it was the rocket that thundered into house on Might 30, 2020, on a flight that made historical past on a number of counts.

It was the primary time a industrial rocket and spacecraft launched individuals into orbit, and ended a nine-year hole in America’s skill to ship astronauts into orbit from US soil, following the retirement of the house shuttle. This mission, often known as Demo-2 and launched by SpaceX underneath contract with NASA, ended US reliance on Russian rockets to ship crews to the Worldwide Area Station.

SpaceX recovered the booster on one in every of its offshore touchdown platforms after the historic launch in Might 2020, whereas the Falcon 9’s higher stage fired into orbit with the Crew Dragon spacecraft containing Hurley and Behnken. Then, the rocket went into SpaceX’s fleet rotation to launch 18 extra occasions, totally on missions to deploy Starlink Web satellites.

Hurley, who commanded the Crew Dragon spacecraft on the Demo-2 mission, stored up with the booster’s exploits properly after his return to Earth. He repeatedly exchanged textual content messages with Behnken and Kiko Dontchev, SpaceX’s vice chairman of launch, because the rocket simply stored flying.

“For Bob and I, that exact booster was all the time fairly particular for lots of causes,” mentioned Hurley, a veteran Marine Corps fighter pilot who retired from NASA’s astronaut corps in 2021. He now works at Northrop Grumman.

An inauspicious ending

Hurley informed Ars he wish to see the booster’s stays displayed in a museum alongside the Crew Dragon spacecraft (named Endeavour) he and Behnken flew in 2020. “In an ideal world, I’d like to see Endeavour and not less than now a part of that booster within the Smithsonian or in a museum someplace,” he mentioned.

“It’s sort of a bummer,” Hurley informed Ars. However he understands SpaceX bought a whole lot of use out of this rocket. SpaceX additionally has a whole lot of love for Hurley and Behnken. The corporate named two of its restoration ships for payload fairings “Bob” and “Doug” after the astronaut duo.

“SpaceX has bought a enterprise to run,” he mentioned. “I believe, at this level, definitely Endeavour goes to fly extra, however this booster isn’t, so hopefully they will discover a spot to show it someplace. Even a part of it will look sort of cool someplace. They may determine one thing out … Individuals, I believe, can get a whole lot of inspiration from seeing stuff that’s really flown in house, and with the ability to get proper up near it, I believe, is an enormous deal to lots of people.”

Doug Hurley, right, commanded the Crew Dragon spacecraft on the Demo-2 mission in 2020.
Enlarge / Doug Hurley, proper, commanded the Crew Dragon spacecraft on the Demo-2 mission in 2020.

NASA

The nineteenth launch of this booster on December 23 was simply as profitable because the earlier 18, with a easy climb into house earlier than shutting down its 9 kerosene-fueled Merlin engines. The booster coasted to the very best level in its trajectory—72 miles (116 kilometers)—earlier than Earth’s gravity pulled it again into the ambiance.

Two engine burns slowed the rocket because it descended towards SpaceX’s drone ship positioned close to the Bahamas, after which 4 carbon-fiber legs deployed moments earlier than an on-target landing. Then, as typical, the restoration vessel began its sluggish journey again to Florida with the 15-story-tall booster standing vertically.

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