Kennedy Space Center wants a SpaceX Falcon 9 core for its Rocket Garden

Falcon 9 B1049.3 returned to port on May 28th after launching ~18.5 tons (~40,000 pounds into orbit, SpaceX's heaviest payload to date. (Tom Cross)

SpaceX continues to make history with nearly every Falcon rocket launch, so it’s only fitting that one of the most well-known places for preserving rocket history, Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, would be interested in adding one of the company’s recovered cores to a display. SpaceX’s ‘flight proven’ collection is, after all, piling up. Even more relevant, however, is that most of those historic launches took place at KSC’s Launch Complex 39A.

After the Mars-bound enterprise successfully launched its third Falcon Heavy rocket this week, including the self-landed recovery of both side boosters, KSC directly voiced its interest in a SpaceX addition to their famous Rocket Garden display.

“Hint: We think a #Falcon9 and/or #FalconHeavy booster would look great in the Rocket Garden. 🚀 We have the space available and the capability to make it happen,” Therrin Protze, COO of KSC’s Visitor Complex, tweeted to Elon Musk.

The request was quickly met with a positive reception by SpaceX’s CEO, confirming to fans and KSC visitors alike that both parties involved in making a display happen were on board with the idea. “Sure, that would be an honor,” Musk later replied after describing his admiration for the display. “I love the KSC rocket garden. Spent many days there looking at rocket design details.”

Kennedy Space Center’s Rocket Garden. | Image: Kennedy Space Center/NASA

Kennedy Space Center’s Rocket Garden is currently home to a collection of rockets representing NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, including a Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket like the ones that put the first three American into space – Alan Shepard, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, and Ham the chimpanzee. Interestingly enough, while the Rocket Garden represents human achievements in space travel, the addition of a recovered Falcon core would represent the only resident to have actually left Earth, a distinction that wasn’t necessary only a few years ago. In effect, SpaceX’s success in recovering as much of each launch vehicle as possible would cast a new light on Rocket Garden tours with a Falcon in its midst, increasing expectations that one-and-done space travel is now largely a thing of the past.

If all goes well and a deal comes out of the SpaceX and KSC affirmations, the rocket will eventually join a few others in line to dot the country with space-faring Falcon cores. Among those planned is a display at Houston Space Center in Texas via a deal inked in May this year. The rocket is initially planned to be on its side and raised off the ground to allow visitors to walk underneath. One of the special aspects of Falcon’s presence in Houston, itself full of incredible spaceflight history, is why the Center chose to include a SpaceX vehicle in its display collection.

“[We want to]… 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,” William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston, said in an interview with 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.”

SpaceX also has plans for its very own rocket garden alongside an expanded presence at its launch facility in Florida. The company aims to build a dedicated facility for storing, refurbishing and decommissioning Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters and payload fairings “immediately” after construction approvals are granted, according to an environmental assessment published in April 2018. Included in the plan are 50 acres of land, a 130,000 square foot facility (with and additional 100,000 square-foot facility option, if needed), and a place to display decommissioned Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters, recovered fairings, and its Dragon spacecraft, assuming they won’t be donated to museums instead.

Until the construction for all planned sites are completed, SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California headquarters has the only Falcon on display for visitors to admire. The first booster the company recovered in December 2015 stands 156 feet tall on the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Jack Northrop Avenue, and it has since been the site for an untold number of visitors taking selfies, sharing their excitement for SpaceX’s achievements all over social media. Until more flight-proven cores are distributed, fans will have to just make due watching Falcon cores come home after ocean drone ship landings.

Kennedy Space Center wants a SpaceX Falcon 9 core for its Rocket Garden
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