A SpaceX Falcon rocket blasted off on Sunday from a Florida launch pad once used to send NASA astronauts to the moon, a step forward for billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and his company’s goal of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.The 229-foot tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 soared off a seaside launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:39 a.m. EST (1439 GMT) carrying a Dragon cargo ship that holds supplies and science experiments for the station.Nine minutes after blastoff, the main section of the rocket flew back to a landing pad at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the eighth successful touchdown for Space Exploration Technologies Corp.”Baby came back,” Musk wrote on Twitter, celebrating the landing. SpaceX had decided to delay the mission on Saturday, 13 seconds before launch due to concerns about the steering system in the rocket’s upper stage.The National Aeronautics and Space Administration closely monitored Sunday’s launch to learn more about the company’s operations before it clears SpaceX to fly U.S. astronauts.The landing eight minutes after liftoff was SpaceX’s third of a booster at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, miles down the coast from the launch site. It was the first attempt in daylight, but clouds obscured the views for many spectators. SpaceX is attempting experimental booster touchdowns at sea and on land with the hope of making rockets reusable and could re-fly a used stage for the first time as soon as next month. A total of eight boosters have now been recovered.
Two minutes after the landing, cameras showed the unmanned Dragon capsule carrying nearly 5,500 pounds of cargo float away from the rocket’s upper stage in what SpaceX said was a perfect orbit.The Dragon’s arrival at the ISS is planned around 9 a.m. Wednesday, where European astronaut Thomas Pesquet will use a 58-foot robotic arm to snare the spacecraft and reel it into a docking port.The launch was SpaceX’s second this year, following one from California in January that marked the Falcon 9’s return to flight after a rocket exploded on a Cape launchpad during a test last Sept. 1.The accident badly damaged Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but SpaceX was nearing the completion of renovations to pad 39A at KSC, which was built in the mid-1960s to support the Apollo program and later modified for shuttles.On Sunday, the mission’s second attempt after a rocket problem scrubbed the first try Saturday, crowds at KSC cheered the Falcon 9’s thundering ascent and landing.The first launch from pad 39A since the shuttle Atlantis lifted off in July 2011 was a psychological boost for the space center eager to show it had evolved into more than just a NASA spaceport. The space agency is preparing its own Space Launch System rocket, more powerful than a Saturn V, to launch from pad 39B to the north, possibly in late 2018.SpaceX next year plans to begin launching astronauts from pad 39A on missions to the space station, which Boeing will also fly from neighboring Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.A Falcon 9 could fly again from KSC within two weeks, launching a commercial communications satellite.