In photos: SpaceX's leaning Crew-1 Falcon 9 booster returns to port

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — What just might be the sootiest SpaceX Falcon 9 booster yet has returned to shore here at Port Canaveral after nailing a record-setting eighth launch and landing last week. But do you remember the “drunkest” Falcon 9 booster, which came home looking pretty tipsy after a windy ride to shore?

SpaceX’s historic Crew-1 booster sailed back into port looking like the Leaning Tower of Pisa on Nov. 19, 2020, after successfully delivering four astronauts into space just days before. 

The Crew-1 booster, known as B1061 by SpaceX, appeared to be in good shape after sliding around on the deck of the company’s drone ship “Just Read the Instructions,” which was subjected to high winds and rough seas on the way back to port after the Falcon 9 landed on it the Atlantic Ocean. 

Despite being secured to the deck of the massive ship by a small robot called an “octagrabber,” the booster was leaning slightly as it made its way back to port. 

Assuming everything goes as planned and the booster passes post-flight inspections with no major issues, SpaceX plans to reuse the booster to launch the next Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station, Crew-2, which is scheduled to lift off sometime in the spring. That flight will mark the first SpaceX crew mission to fly with both a reused Falcon 9 booster and Dragon crew capsule. (NASA previously announced it gave SpaceX the go ahead to reuse hardware for Crew missions.)

The brand new booster blasted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 15 and then landed on “Just Read the Instructions” around 9.5 minutes later. Live video of the landing, as captured by the massive vessel, appeared to show the Falcon 9’s first stage touching down squarely on the ship’s deck, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean more than 300 miles (500 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral. 

But by the time the rocket arrived at Port Canaveral four days later, the booster had a noticeable lean and one of its four landing legs appeared to be hanging off the edge of the ship’s deck, while another landing leg looked to be raised off the deck. 

SpaceX has already offloaded the booster and will transport it back to the company’s facilities at Cape Canaveral Space Force station. It will undergo a thorough inspection process before it’s put back into the rotation again. 

The company has leaned hard on its fleet of flight proven boosters this year, which has enabled SpaceX to get more than 20 missions off the ground this year. NASA recently said it would allow SpaceX to use flight proven boosters to ferry its astronauts to space, starting with the Crew-2 mission. 

That flight could lift off as early as March, and the agency announced it would do so on the same booster as Crew-1. That means that NASA really hopes B1061 will be able to fly again. There is no visible indication that the booster’s lean would affect its ability to be reused for the Crew-2 mission, but it still has to go through the inspection process to be sure.

NASA has other options available if necessary as SpaceX has a fleet of veteran rockets to choose from, including the booster that launched the Sentinel-6 Earth-observing satellite for NASA on Nov. 21. That launch iblasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Just as planned, the booster touched down back on land approximately nine minutes later. 


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