The Falcon 9, which was SpaceX’s first rocket to launch two NASA missions, will permanently join the Texas-based aerospace center’s expanding space exploration exhibits.
“We’re excited to welcome Falcon 9 to our growing center,” said William T. Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston in a press release. “We are deeply grateful to SpaceX for their contribution.”
Harris made the announcement during a recent Galaxy Gala fundraiser for the non-profit space exploration and science learning center.
Falcon 9’s Landmark Launches
SpaceX designed and manufactured Falcon 9 as a two-stage rocket to enable the “reliable and safe transport of satellites and the Dragon spacecraft into orbit.”
The Falcon 9 first stage, which is slated for Space Center Houston display, completed two landmark launches for the U.S. space program.
The rocket originally blasted off as a milestone 100th launch from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The pad is the same one which launched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into space on Apollo 11 in 1969. It also launched the first and last space shuttle flights.
As SpaceX’s eleventh NASA-contracted resupply mission, CRS-11 launched on June 3, 2017. The mission marked the first time the company reused a Dragon cargo spacecraft.
Post-launch, Falcon 9’s first stage made a successful return to SpaceX’s Landing Zone-1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Six months later, SpaceX made history again with CRS-13. In the new mission, Falcon 9’s first stage relaunched to send the Dragon capsule the International Space Station (ISS).
As with CRS-11, the booster landed once again at Landing Zone-1 for the second (and final) time.
“We are so excited that we got CRS-11 and CRS-13, because it was the first reusable rocket segment used for a mission to send cargo to the International Space Station for NASA,” said Harris in a collectSpace interview. “It is really appropriate because we [control the] space station from here in Houston and we have a major exhibit about the International Space Station.”
Outdoor Display and Exhibit Location
Space Center Houston will display the massive rocket stage outdoors. For now, it will stand on its side, raised off the ground, so visitors can walk under it. However, the 15-story-tall core will eventually stand vertically.
“Our plans in the long term is to display it in the vertical,” Harris told collectSPACE. “But that takes a lot of engineering work because space artifacts are not designed for museum exhibits. So, a lot of work needs to be done to stabilize it for long-term exhibition.”
Harris added they’ll work closely with SpaceX in the endeavor. They also hope to position it vertically sometime next year.
The impending horizontal display will be located adjacent to Space Center Houston’s NASA 747-Shuttle Carrier Aircraft exhibit at Independence Plaza. The jumbo jet (marked NASA 905 on its tail) serves as a stunning visual centerpiece to the plaza. A mock shuttle orbiter sits on top of it.
Leading New Generations Toward the Future of Manned Spaceflight
As one of Houston’s top attractions, Space Center Houston draws visitors of all ages from all over the world.
Furthermore, the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation aims to spur current and future generations’ interest in space via its extensive science education programs and space museum.
The Falcon 9 core will become part of the center’s fascinating permanent space exhibits. As such, it marks a brilliant example of the future direction of commercial space flight.
“One of the things we’ve been wanting to do here is interpret the history of the space program, but also interpret for the public what is currently going on and where we are going moving on into the future,” Harris told collectSPACE. “With the relationship that NASA has with the commercial sector in support of the International Space Station and other missions, I felt we really needed to begin interpreting that as well.”
A big part of this future includes SpaceX and NASA’s ongoing mission to resume manned space launches from American soil.
The successful launch of the Crew Dragon in March was a step in the right direction. However, an anomaly during a recent Dragon capsule engine test firing may delay plans for a manned spaceflight later this year.