SpaceX successfully launched a critical space station docking port for astronauts Monday, along with a DNA decoder for high-flying genetic research. As an extra treat, the company brought its leftover first-stage booster back to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a vertical touchdown — only the second such land landing for an orbital mission and the ultimate in recycling. Twin sonic booms rocked the moonlit night, old shuttle landing-style. “A really good day,” observed Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of flight reliability for SpaceX. The cosmic double-header got underway as the unmanned Falcon rocket streaked upward through the middle-of-the-night darkness, carrying 5,000lbs of food, experiments and equipment for the International Space Station.
We’re going to be trying to do the first DNA sequencing in space, and it’ll be a combination of a bacteria, a virus and a mouse genome that we’ll be sequencing.
Astronaut Kate Rubins
NASA needs this new docking setup at the space station before Americans can fly there in crew capsules set to debut next year. SpaceX is building astronaut-worthy versions of its Dragon cargo ships, while Boeing — which makes these docking ports — is working on a crew capsule called Starliner. The pair would dock to this ring and another due to fly in a year. SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk wants to refly his rockets to shave launch costs. The boosters normally are ditched at sea. The company hopes to launch its first recovered rocket this fall.