Fifth time’s the charm.
Today, commercial spaceflight company SpaceX became the first entity in history to successfully land a rocket stage from orbit at sea. The success comes after four failed (and explosive) attempts by the company to prove that it could land—for eventual reuse—a stage from its Falcon 9 rocket safely back on its autonomous barge “Of Course I Still Love You.” It’s no small feat either: SpaceX likens the challenge to throwing a pencil over the Empire State Building and having it land upright on a bread box on the other side.
The novelty of today’s landing has to do with the Falcon 9 stage’s unique landing spot: the middle of the ocean. While most rocket stages burn up in the atmosphere and spend the rest of their days at the bottom of the sea, SpaceX was seeking to put an autonomous barge between a still intact rocket and Davy Jones’ locker. Back in December, SpaceX proved that it could at least put a rocket stage back on land, but up until now each barge landing has ended in fire. Today, thousands of viewers collectively clenched as the rocket stage finally stayed steady on the robot boat.
A successful landing means more than just a world-first feather in SpaceX’s cap. Being able to land and reuse a rocket stage—the drone barge means you can land it on the majority of the Earth’s surface—should, according to can’t-prove-he’s-not-Iron-Man Elon Musk, significantly reduce the price of space flight. Building a rocket isn’t cheap, so having a worn-but-usable rocket stage all ready to go means savings in the millions.
What do you think of today’s landing? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
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