spacex
February 20, 2017

SpaceX uses prestigious NASA pad for successful liftoff 

SpaceX has used the iconic Launch Complex 39A at John F. Kennedy Space Center to launch a Falcon 9 rocket and accompanying Dragon cargo capsule towards the International Space Station, the first private launch from a site that lifted off historic NASA missions.

NASA commentator George Diller said: "Liftoff of the Falcon 9 to the space station on the first commercial launch from Kennedy Space Center's historic Pad 39a!" referring to the launch complex that in the past hosted Apollo moon missions.

rocket landing

The first stage of the rocket about to land on the pad. (Credit: SpaceX)

The launch took place Sunday Feb. 19, after an attempt on Saturday was thwarted by a concerning reading from the rocket's second stage.

Happily, once all systems were go, the parts that were supposed to return to Earth did so successfully - something SpaceX has not had total success with previously.

"Baby came back," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Instagram after the smooth landing of the rocket's first stage.

An unprecedented cargo

Two days after liftoff, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA's station commander Shane Kimbrough will receive the Dragon using the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

ISS astronauts will open a particularly science-focused content in Dragon's 5,500 pound cargo, which contains among many other things the SAGE-III, an Earth-monitoring tool that will observe atmospheric ozone, the Lightning Imaging Sensor, which will track lightning worldwide, and Raven, the data from which will contribute towards autonomous rendezvous for future spacecraft.

There is also content to test the behavior of various entities in space. Scientists will hope to learn more about how the 'superbug' MRSA adapts in space, conduct a mouse study on how wounds heal in space, and examine how metal alloys solidify in space.

"You can see that this particular SpaceX launch is going to keep our crew busy; it keeps us busy every day," said Tara Ruttley, an associate scientist for the ISS program. "We've never seen such a platform like this enabled on orbit for science."

As well as providing a valuable service to the ISS, SpaceX can also mark the milestone of having attempted 10 cargo missions to the space station, which are conducted under a contract with NASA.

Nine of those were a success, the exception being in September 2016 when a Falcon 9 exploded on the pad during a routine pre-launch test, destroying the rocket and wiping out a $200-million-dollar payload, the Amos-6 satellite. But hey, everyone makes mistakes.

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Image credit: SpaceX