SpaceX, the pioneering commercial spaceflight company founded by Elon Musk, has made its mark in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with the donation of flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket hardware. This historic contribution includes a Merlin 1D engine and an aluminum grid fin, which have now landed at their new home in the prestigious museum, representing a significant milestone for SpaceX in the realm of U.S. spaceflight history.
The Falcon 9 rockets are equipped with nine powerful Merlin 1D engines that propel payloads to orbit, fueled by rocket-grade kerosene RP-1. These engines have demonstrated high reliability; SpaceX has recovered orbital-class rockets 229 times and reused boosters in its Falcon 9 Block 5 fleet 201 times.
The Merlin engine that will go on display played a pivotal role in the 2019 launch of SpaceIL's lunar lander ‘Beresheet.’ It has now joined the ranks of other iconic artifacts in the National Air and Space Museum. The Beresheet mission, although it ended in lunar surface impact, marked a critical moment in the journey to the moon of private space exploration. In addition to this mission, the donated Merlin engine boasts an impressive resume, having powered two Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in 2018. These missions successfully delivered commercial communications satellites (Iridium-6) and an Argentinian Earth-observation satellite (SAOCOM 1A) into orbit. Notably, SAOCOM 1A's Falcon 9 booster landing in the U.S. West Coast marked a significant achievement in SpaceX's pioneering reusable rocket technology.
Accompanying the Merlin engine in its journey to the Smithsonian is an aluminum grid fin. This grid fin soared into space in 2017 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the South Korean satellite Koreasat 5A. It played a pivotal role in SpaceX's 19th successful recovery of a Falcon 9 first-stage booster, marking a remarkable milestone for the company as it surpassed its 200th Falcon 9 landing in 2023.
These SpaceX artifacts will be integral to an upcoming exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum, focusing on the future of spaceflight. The museum, which is currently undergoing a $900-million renovation, is set to reopen its east wing to the public, where these artifacts will be displayed. This wing was previously home to galleries such as "Space Race" (now becoming the "Raytheon Technologies Living in the Space Age" exhibition) and "Moving Beyond Earth," which had a scale model of a Falcon 9 rocket to represent SpaceX.
SpaceX's donation to the Smithsonian is just one of many contributions the company has made to space institutions across the United States. The company has placed complete Falcon 9 rocket stages at Space Center Houston in Texas and the NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, and an iconic Falcon 9 booster stands proudly outside its headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Additionally, first-generation Dragon capsules from SpaceX are on display at Kennedy and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. With these artifacts now showcased at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, SpaceX's pioneering achievements in commercial spaceflight take their rightful place in the annals of American aerospace history, inspiring future generations to reach for the stars.
Two new artifacts from @SpaceX’s Falcon rocket have joined our collection: a Merlin engine used in three launches in 2018 and 2019 and a grid fin flown on a 2017 launch. Both artifacts will go on display in an upcoming exhibition that explores what’s next for spaceflight. pic.twitter.com/up7NRUXVrf
Two new artifacts from @SpaceX’s Falcon rocket have joined our collection: a Merlin engine used in three launches in 2018 and 2019 and a grid fin flown on a 2017 launch. Both artifacts will go on display in an upcoming exhibition that explores what’s next for spaceflight. pic.twitter.com/up7NRUXVrf— National Air and Space Museum (@airandspace) September 21, 2023
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Featured Images Source: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.