A Falcon 9 rocket thrilled thousands of spectators Sunday night after launching and later landing its first-stage booster at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, sparking gasps, cheers and applause.
The Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) rocket blasted off at 7:21 p.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 East on South Base. Clear skies provided a good backdrop for viewing the rocket’s flight and stage separations, as the Falcon and its SAOCOM 1A satellite headed away from the Central Coast.
Eight minutes later, cheers and gasps came from the hundreds of onlookers in Vandenberg Village as the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth as spectators pronounced the sight “gorgeous” and employed other superlatives.
“That was pretty amazing. My legs are shaking. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Emily Kerbach, a Fresno resident who formerly lived in Lompoc. “And also it felt like was going to fall on us. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Spectators filled the official Hawk’s Nest viewing site and made their own parking along Highway 1, the Santa Lucia Canyon Road turnoff, Timber Lane and other areas, some walking across Highway 1 to enter the chaparral area.
Other Falcon liftoffs have been followed by landing attempts on a droneship in the ocean, but this marks the first time the firm tried touching down on Landing Zone 4, the former Space Launch Complex-4 West where Titan 2 rockets once blasted off.
“The Falcon has landed,” a crew member pronounced as the booster touched down on South Base. A loud sonic boom sounded, eliciting more cheers and applause from spectators.
“That was super dope, huh?” one man asked.
SpaceX said the touch down marked the 30th successful landing after launches from Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral, Florida.
While the landing attempt sparked the excitement, the Falcon rocket’s primary mission involved placing an Earth-observing satellite into orbit for Argentina’s space agency.
Separation of the SAOCOM 1A satellite occurred approximately 12 minutes after launch. Equipped with a synthetic aperture radar, SAOCOM 1A and its sibling SAOCOM 1B, to be launched later, will gather information about soil moisture.