SpaceX launched Christmas gifts, goodies and supplies to the International Space Station on Tuesday and got a present in return: the company’s 100th successful rocket landing.
The predawn liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center was barely visible in the fog and clouds, as the Falcon rocket hoisted a Dragon capsule loaded with more than 6,500 pounds of gear for the station's seven astronauts. Several minutes later, the first-stage booster landed upright on an ocean platform, six years to the day that Elon Musk’s company accomplished its first booster touchdown in 2015.
This particular booster was making its first flight. A few days ago, a SpaceX booster made its 11th flight.
"It's critical to lower the cost of spaceflight to continue to reuse these boosters more and more times. A hundred is a big milestone, so we're excited about that," said SpaceX’s Sarah Walker, a mission manager. "We're also excited to see how few new boosters we have to produce as the years go by."
Among the items due to arrive at the space station Wednesday: Christmas presents from the astronauts’ families, as well as smoked fish, turkey, green beans and fruitcake for a holiday feast. NASA’s space station program manager Joel Montalbano wouldn’t divulge anything else. "I won’t get in front of Santa Claus and tell you what's going to be sent up," he told reporters on the eve of launch.
The delivery also includes a laundry detergent experiment. Station astronauts currently trash their dirty clothes; Procter & Gamble Co. is developing a fully degradable detergent for eventual use at the station, on the moon and beyond.
SpaceX is ending the year with 31 launches, the most ever by the company.