Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has pioneered the aerospace industry with its reusable Falcon 9 rocket and now the launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. On Saturday, May 30, a solitary Falcon 9 blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch marked the first flight of US astronauts into orbit from US soil nine years.

The launch also marked a significant milestone for SpaceX as it was the first time astronauts flew into orbit aboard a private-build spacecraft.

About two minutes and 40 seconds into the launch, the Falcon 9’s main engines were cut off and the first stage separated from the second stage.

As the second stage pushed the Dragon into a stable orbit, the first stage plummeted towards the Atlantic Ocean, aiming for a robotic landing platform dubbed Of Course I Still Love You.

Part of the landing was caught on NASA and SpaceX’s online broadcast on the day. 

In the SpaceX stream, you can see the Falcon 9 falling through the atmosphere, guided by latticed aerobrake fins on its sides.

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Just before crashing, the rocket performed a so-called suicide burn to kill off its speed.

The rocket ignited one to three of its powerful Merlin engines in a nail-biting performance.

Unfortunately, the stream briefly cut out just seconds before the rocket touched down on the drone ship. 

But you can watch below an older clip of the Falcon 9 landing on the drone ship in 2016.

The Falcon 9 comes equipped with extendable legs that allow it to stay vertical even among the rough waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

The SpaceX drone ship then ferries the Falcon 9 back to the Kennedy Space Center to be reused on future missions.

Ultimately what we’re trying to achieve is having numerous providers

Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator

The groundbreaking reusable design of the Falcon 9 has revolutionised the industry by drastically slashing the cost of launching payloads into orbit.

NASA has partnered with SpaceX and Boeing to cut costs and return crewed spaceflight to US soil.

Since 2011 and the end of the Space Shuttle era, NASA has relied on the Russian Soyuz programme to send crews to the ISS.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Ultimately what we’re trying to achieve is having numerous providers that are competing against each other on costs, innovation and safety.

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“And then NASA can be a customer, one customer of many customers, and we already know that this will save a ton of money over the long term.”

SpaceX nailed its first Falcon 9 landing in December 2015.

Although Blue Origin, the company led by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, landed a New Shepard rocket a month earlier, the rocket landed after suborbital tests.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 was the first rocket to reach orbit and touch down back on Earth.

Mr Musk said at the time: “I do think it’s a revolutionary moment.

“No one has ever brought an orbital class booster back intact.

“We achieved recovery of the rocket in a mission that also deployed 11 satellites.

“This is a fundamental step change compared to any other rocket that’s ever flown.”

The Falcon rocket has been in development since at least 2005.

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