by Chris Tobias
If there’s one thing SpaceX has become very good at, it’s making history. And in just a couple of hours, they’ll do it again.
Elon Musk and company will launch their tenth resupply mission to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral this morning at 10:01 am, EST. A Falcon 9 will break atmo with a Dragon capsule that’s ISS bound, and shortly thereafter, if all goes according to plan, SpaceX will once again land the first stage of the rocket– this time at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral. The Dragon will then rendezvous with the International Space Station on February 20.
It’s not the cargo of this 10th of 14 planned resupply missions to the ISS that’s particularly historic, nor is it SpaceX’s recovery of the Falcon’s first stage– something that the world used to watch for in anticipation during launches but is now practically taking for granted (a real credit to SpaceX). What makes this launch so special is where it’s taking place.
SpaceX will send CRS-10 into the black from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. This particular launch site last saw action in 2011, during the waning days of the Space Shuttle program. Prior to that, though, it was the site from which America went to the Moon. In fact, every manned Apollo flight except for one (Apollo 10) was launched from LC-39A, and the Skylab space station was sent into orbit from there as well. In 1981, LC-39A ushered in a new era of American spaceflight with the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia, and the pad supported the shuttle program all the way through the final shuttle mission of Atlantis in 2011.
SpaceX is now leasing LC-39A from NASA, and this morning it will once again be the site from which we witness the next step in American spaceflight. This time around the future takes the shape of a privately-built, privately-owned rocket that will be carrying a privately built, privately-owned space capsule into the black in support of a space station that is internationally manned and operated by the joint efforts of several of the world’s government space agencies, after which that same rocket will return to Earth to land and be reused for future missions. And as if that’s not enough, within the year SpaceX may be ready use LC-39A to launch American astronauts into space in a manned version of that very same capsule. (If you agree with us that that first Crew Dragon should be named Serenity, be sure to write to SpaceX and let them know.) If a launch complex could talk, we bet LC-39A would find it appropriate to quote Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds:
“I’m thinking we’ll rise again.”
You can watch SpaceX’s historic launch online this morning on NASA TV starting at 8:30am. SpaceX’s coverage of the launch should begin around 9:30am at spacex.com. Should the launch be postponed for any reason, the backup launch window is Sunday, February 19 at 9:38 am EST. Here’s to history.
Peace, love and rockets…
by Chris Tobias
The failure of SpaceX’s seventh commercial resupply mission may have some in Washington doubting the reliability of the Falcon 9 and Dragon, but if merchandise sales alone are any indication, SpaceX’s workhorse rocket and space capsule haven’t lost any popularity with the general public, and it looks like Dragon remains the real “belle of the ball.”
How would I know this? Well, just four days ago (August 11) I had the pleasure of visiting the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. That’s something I’ll talk a lot more about in a future post, but for now I’d like to share one particular experience to make my point. As with most Florida attractions, the Visitor Complex at Kennedy Space Center has a rather substantial gift shop, where visitors can buy everything from books about space authored by astronauts to patches from historic missions and replica space suits. A guy like me could easily blow a day’s wages in a place like that and justify it by convincing himself that the money was going to further the efforts of the American space program. When we had finished our tour of the launch facilities and the various other attractions (including Space Shuttle Atlantis on static display), I naturally had to pay “The Space Store” a visit before our group left the complex to spend the rest of the afternoon at Cocoa Beach.
As I approached the main gift shop, the first thing I noticed was a window display that featured mannequins wearing “Occupy Mars” t-shirts! “Hey,” I said to myself, “Those are SpaceX shirts! What’re they doing here? This is a NASA gift shop…” No sooner had those thoughts flashed through my mind than the shop’s automatic doors opened before me to reveal a very large display right in the front of the store featuring an array of familiar SpaceX merchandise and a sign that said “New Arrival.” There were SpaceX t-shirts, hats and polo shirts in various colors, “Occupy Mars” t-shirts, hats and coffee mugs and t-shirts bearing the logos of both the Falcon 9 and the Dragon. Even more astounding than the selection was the fact that these items were being given prime real estate– right at the front of the store!
“How cool,” I thought. “NASA must be showing a little love to its Commercial Crew partners by carrying their merchandise in its shops.” After a quick look around the store, though, that theory fell out of the sky faster than a ship with a Capissen-38 engine. Not only could I not find any CST-100 merchandise, there was no Boeing merchandise of any kind to be found anywhere, let alone at the store’s front entrance. I had to conclude that the marketing push was strictly “a SpaceX thing,” and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t tickle me a bit.