Atop ship, rocket returns to Florida port

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SpaceX photo

For the first time, a rocket has sailed its way back to Port Canaveral.  The converted barge carrying the Falcon 9 first stage returned to land early this morning after last week's historic launch and landing.

The unusual scene unfolded in the darkness, right around 1 a.m.  The 135-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket was still upright, bathed in spotlights, as the ship "Of Course I Still Love You" sailed in.  Workers could be seen on deck, providing a sense of scale as they scurried around the tethered rocket's base.

The Falcon 9 launched Friday on a mission to send cargo to the International Space Station.  The landing of the first stage aboard the unmanned ship was the first successful at-sea landing in five attempts and a key step in the company's goal to improve reliability and lower launch costs through reusability.

After the launch last week, company CEO Elon Musk said this rocket undergo as many as 10 test firings at Cape Canaveral and could be ready to be reflown as soon as June, assuming nothing significant is found.

The first stage that landed on solid ground at Cape Canaveral back in December -- the only other stage to have landed safely -- is going to go on display at SpaceX's California headquarters, Musk added.

PHOTOS:  Friday'sSpaceX Falcon 9 launch