SpaceX Launches Dragon Cargo Into Orbit, Falcon 9 Rocket Has Nearly Successful Landing

Photographers take pictures of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it lifts off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Tuesday. (PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Audette / Reuters)
Photographers take pictures of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it lifts off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Tuesday. (PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Audette / Reuters)

After a day’s delay, SpaceX launched its robotic Dragon cargo craft to the International Space Station on Tuesday — and then brought the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket down to a nearly successful landing on a floating platform.

Liftoff came at 4:10 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, almost exactly 24 hours after an earlier countdown was scrubbed when threatening clouds drifted too close to the launch pad.

Minutes after launch, the Dragon and the Falcon 9’s second stage separated from the first stage and continued onward into space. Meanwhile, the first stage relit its rocket engines, decelerated from supersonic speeds and guided itself toward a landing on an “autonomous spaceport drone ship,” stationed hundreds of miles off the Florida coast in the Atlantic.

SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, reported in a tweet that the rocket landed on the drone ship, “but too hard for survival.” Later, he tweeted that the Falcon “landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post-landing.”

Musk also reported that the Dragon was successfully en route to the space station, a view seconded by NASA. The Dragon is due to link up with the station on Friday.

This is the sixth of at least 12 cargo deliveries covered by a $1.6 billion contract between SpaceX and NASA. The mission’s prime objective is to transport more than 4,300 pounds (1,950 kilograms) of supplies and payloads, including the first zero-G espresso machine to go into orbit.

The Italian-built ISSpresso device was supposed to be delivered to the space station in January, but the loss of an Orbital Sciences shipment in October forced a reordering of the delivery schedule.

NASA’s deputy manager for the space station program, Dan Hartman, said the fancy coffeemaker is a commercial experiment that the space agency hopes will “boost spirits” during long-duration space missions.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Alan Boyle

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