SpaceX has done it! The commercial space firm finally landed a rocket on a floating drone ship Friday afternoon without said rocket exploding into smithereens.
The landing was a beaut and a huge achievement for the team after four previous ocean landing attempts ended in fiery failure. Now, SpaceX can say its Falcon 9 rocket can touch down both on land and at sea.
Today's launch sent several thousand pounds of cargo in the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, including a BEAM inflatable habitat that will be tested for possible use in future Mars missions.
SpaceX is keen on ocean landings because even though they're harder to pull off, high-velocity rockets may leave insufficient fuel for the rocket to get back to land.
Landing in the ocean may seem like an arcane accomplishment, but it means that it's possible for SpaceX - and anyone else who can pull it off - to recover first-stage rockets after launch and potentially reuse them in later missions, saving untold sums.
I say potentially because we still don't know what condition the Falcon 9 rocket is in and whether it will be resuable without expensive repairs. However, Elon Musk said at a NASA press conference that it's likely the rocket will be reusable.
It will arrive back in port on Sunday, and then it will be fired 10 times in a row on the ground, Musk said. If that goes well, the rocket could be relaunched by June. Eventually, SpaceX wants to cut rocket turnaround time to a few weeks.
Musk was also asked if the rocket could be used to take paying customer up to space.
"We think it'll be a paying customer, but we have to have discussions on it," Musk replied.
You can watch a full replay of the launch and landing below, though you can skip ahead to the 32 minute market for the phenomenal landing. Just try not to get goosebumps when the SpaceX team erupts with elation.
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