Welcome to the era of reusable rockets
The SpaceX Falcon 9 lands safely on the Of Course I Still Love You
For the first time in history, a rocket has been sent into space and returned to Earth for safe landing on a floating barge in the ocean. A floating barge — that’s also a robot!
The launch took place at 4:43 pm EST, and after a two-and-a-half minute climb that sent the Falcon 9 hundreds of thousands of feet above Earth’s surface, the first stage of the rocket detached and started its controlled descent back home. It’s destination: a football-field sized drone platform in the Atlantic Ocean named the Of Course I Still Love You, an allusion to a planet-sized starship in Iain M. Banks’ book The Player of Games.
The Falcon 9’s landing was flawless. And considering how much it costs to use a rocket one time and then just watch it disappear into space, the financial ramifications for this could be huge. As you might imagine, first-stage rockets are super expensive. The Falcon 9 alone cost about $60 million, so making that part of a launch out of a reusable vehicle is a big possible step towards more widely accessible space travel. That’s at least part of the goal for SpaceX mastermind and possible future-ruler of the human race, Elon Musk.
But despite all the commotion around Falcon 9 sticking its landing, the point of todays launch wasn’t even just to pull off a fancy stunt. The second stage of the rocket continued firing after the first stage detached, which puts the Dragon cargo capsule on a course to intercept with the International Space Station. That’s right. Today’s feat of science wasn’t just spectacular; it was functional! The Dragon is expected to reach the ISS this weekend, and it will provide materials to support the experiments currently being carried out on the Station.
And to commemorate this joyous day, here are happy nerds freaking out about science on Twitter:
And for a little more space porn, here is a video of Falcon 9’s December landing that is still very cool, but inferior by virtue of the fact that it didn’t come back down to a robot boat.