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Reservists support historic launch, landing of rocket

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket settles gently back to Earth at Landing Zone 1 (formerly Launch Complex 13) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station less than 10 minutes after it took off from Launch Complex 40 a little more than 5 miles north. It marked the first time a rocket delivered satellites to orbit (11 on this particular mission), then returned to land safely. The reservists of the 920th Rescue Wing provide range clearance and safety contingency support for all rocket launches from CCAFS/Kennedy Space Center. (courtesy photo/SpaceX)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket settles gently back to Earth at Landing Zone 1 (formerly Launch Complex 13) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station less than 10 minutes after it took off from Launch Complex 40 a little more than 5 miles north. It marked the first time a rocket delivered satellites to orbit (11 on this particular mission), then returned to land safely. The reservists of the 920th Rescue Wing provide range clearance and safety contingency support for all rocket launches from CCAFS/Kennedy Space Center. (courtesy photo/SpaceX)

The twin streaks of light represent a time lapse photo showing both the launch and landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which completed the round trip from Earth to space (where the rocket placed 11 satellites in orbit) and back in roughly 10 minutes. The Falcon blasted off from Launch Complex 40 at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, then executed a perfect vertical landing and the former Launch Complex 13 -- now Landing Zone 1 -- a little more than five miles south from where it took off. It marked the first time a rocket delivered spacecraft into orbit and returned safely to Earth. SpaceX hopes to reuse their rockets, greatly reducing the cost of their space program. The reservists of the 920th Rescue Wing provide range clearance and safety contingency support for all rocket launches from CCAFS/Kennedy Space Center. (courtesy photo/SpaceX)

The twin streaks of light represent a time lapse photo showing both the launch and landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which completed the round trip from Earth to space (where the rocket placed 11 satellites in orbit) and back in roughly 10 minutes. The Falcon blasted off from Launch Complex 40 at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, then executed a perfect vertical landing and the former Launch Complex 13 -- now Landing Zone 1 -- a little more than five miles south from where it took off. It marked the first time a rocket delivered spacecraft into orbit and returned safely to Earth. SpaceX hopes to reuse their rockets, greatly reducing the cost of their space program. The reservists of the 920th Rescue Wing provide range clearance and safety contingency support for all rocket launches from CCAFS/Kennedy Space Center. (courtesy photo/SpaceX)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Helicopter aircrews from the 920th Rescue Wing held their hover near Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station while a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted skyward at 8:29 p.m. Dec. 21.

On board the Falcon were 11 communications satellites, which were to be placed into low-Earth orbit (LEO) (between 99 - 1,200 miles up). Normally, once that task was done, so was the life of the rocket.

But not this time. This time, there would be a slight change.

Which is how it came to be that, after setting the satellites adrift in low-Earth orbit, the Falcon 9 made a U-turn. Moments later, the rocket reappeared in the muggy Florida night, orientated itself toward Landing Zone 1 (former Launch Complex 13), and proceeded to execute a perfect vertical landing back at the Cape a mere 10 minutes after liftoff.

SpaceX had been trying to engineer rockets to be reusable launch systems for some time but was never able to produce a successful landing. And the launch itself marked the first for the company since June, a Falcon 9 had exploded in mid-air two minutes after liftoff from the Cape.

The launch, satellite deployment and safe return of the Falcon 9 marks the first time in history a large-scale rocket was able to return safely to Earth after performing a mission.

As part of an integrated team, 920th Airmen launch in two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter several hours prior to every Space Coast rocket launch to clear civilian and commercial marine traffic from the launch trajectory are, which extends roughly 80 miles east from the shores of Cape Canaveral.

The wing's primary mission is combat search and rescue (CSAR), which includes rescuing servicemembers trapped and/or wounded behind enemy lines. Additionally, the wing performs civil search and rescue and humanitarian relief.

Since being activated in 1956, the 920th Rescue Wing has saved roughly 4,000 lives, including more than 850 combat rescues. It is the only CSAR unit in the Air Force Reserve.

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