SpaceX Just Put The Coolest Garden Gnome Ever In Its Front Yard

The first stage of the very first Falcon 9 to successfully be recovered now stands as a monument outside of SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Credit: KC Grim

SpaceX has certainly pulled off some successful feats lately. In the past few months, the private aerospace company made its second successful landing on solid ground and its third successful landing at sea with their Falcon 9 rocket. In so doing, they demonstrated that they have achieved the long sought-after dream of reusable rocket technology.

And to celebrate these feats, SpaceX has placed a particularly special first stage on display outside the company headquarters in Hawthorne, California. This particular rocket stage made history about eight months ago (on Dec. 21st, 2015), when it became the first-ever first stage to be recovered in the entire history of spaceflight.

For the sake of this mission, which was the 20th flight conducted by SpaceX using this class of rocket, the Falcon 9 was tasked with delivering 11 Orbcomm-OG2 communications satellites into orbit. After separating, the first stage descended to Earth and became the first rocket stage ever to make a soft landing and recovery.

The top of the Falcon-9 lower stage. Image credit: KC Grim
The top of the Falcon-9 lower stage. Credit: KC Grim

Prior to this flight, SpaceX’s had made two attempts at a vertical landing and booster recovery, both of which ended in failure. The first attempt, which took place in January of 2015, ended when the rocket came close to a successful landing aboard the company’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), but then fell over and exploded.

An investigation determined that failure was due to the rocket’s steering fins running out of hydraulic fluid. The second failed attempt, which took place in April of last year, ended when the rocket stage was mere seconds away from landing on ASDS, but once again fell over and exploded. This time around, the culprit was a failure in one of the rocket stage’s engine throttle valves.

On the third attempt, which took place on Dec. 21st, the Falcon 9 first stage landed a mere ten minutes after launching from Earth. After its descent, it successfully touched down in an upright position on SpaceX’s Landing Zone (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The success of this recovery was a major milestone for the company, and a breakthrough in the history of space exploration and technology. Little wonder then why the company is choosing to honor it by placing it on display at the Hawthorn facility, where their rocket manufacturing plant is located.

The first stage of the recovered Falcon 9, showing its landing struts deployed. Credit: SpaceX
The first stage of the recovered Falcon 9, showing its landing struts deployed. Credit: KC Grim

It all happened this past weekend, where work crews spent Saturday and Sunday standing the 50 meter (165 foot) Falcon 9 stage up on its landing skids. Prior to it being transported to their headquarters in Hawthorne, the rocket’s first stage was being kept in a horizontal position at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and then at a location a few blocks away from the HQ.

Getting it to stand again was no easy task, and required two days and two cranes! The rocket also underwent some “aesthetic renewal” before being erected, which included a cleaning in order to remove all the soot it had accumulated on re-entry. Its logos were also repainted, and most of its engines were replaced by spent versions.

Since this first recovery, SpaceX has managed to conduct five more successful recoveries, one on land and four on its ASDS. They are moving ahead with the first launch of their Falcon Heavy  – Demo Flight 1, which is scheduled to take place by the end of 2016 – which will be the heaviest rocket to be launched from the US since the retirement of the venerable Saturn V.

Yes, the little company Elon Musk started with the dream of one-day colonizing Mars has certainly achieved some milestones. And between the creation of this display, and the Dragon capsule they have on display inside their Hawthorn headquarters, the company is clearly committed to immortalizing them.

And be sure to enjoy this video of the Falcon 9 making its first successful landing, courtesy of SpaceX:

Further Reading: Collect Space

A big thanks to KC Grim for capturing some images of the rocket for Universe Today. Check out his Instagram @citizenkace.