SpaceX launches rocket carrying supplies

MARCIA DUNN

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A SpaceX rocket soared from NASA’s long-idled moonshot pad Sunday, sending up space station supplies from the exact spot where astronauts embarked on the lunar landings

nearly a half-century ago.

It was the first flight from NASA’s legendary Launch Complex 39A since the shuttle program ended almost six years ago, and SpaceX’s first liftoff from Florida since a rocket explosion last summer.

The crowds at Kennedy Space

Center watched eagerly as the

unmanned Falcon 9 rocket took flight with a cargo ship bound for the

International Space Station. They got barely 10 seconds of viewing before clouds obscured the Falcon.

As an extra special treat, SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after liftoff, a feat accomplished only twice before. Most of SpaceX’s eight successful booster landings — rocket recycling at its finest — have used ocean platforms.

SpaceX employees at company flight headquarters in Southern California cheered as the 15-story booster landed upright at its designated parking spot at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The celebratory roar grew when the Dragon cargo ship successfully reached orbit a couple of minutes

later. It will reach the space station Wednesday, delivering 5,500 pounds of food, clothes and experiments.

Saturday’s launch effort was foiled by last-minute rocket concerns. The repairs paid off, and even the clouds parted enough to ensure a safe flight.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk said he’s honored to use Launch Complex 39A. The company hopes to launch astronauts from the spot next year, bringing U.S. crew launches back to home soil after a longer-than-intended

hiatus.

If the pad weathered Sunday’s launch well, another Falcon could be standing there for a satellite send-up in just two weeks.

Kennedy Space Center’s director Robert Cabana, a former shuttle commander who flew four times from 39A, is thrilled to see the pad used for commercial flights like this “instead of just sitting out there and rusting away.” It’s a stark contrast, he noted, to the depression that followed the final shuttle mission in 2011.

Built in the mid-1960s for the

massive Saturn V moon rockets, Launch Complex 39A has seen

95 launches.

NASA signed over 39A to SpaceX in 2014 under a 20-year lease.