It’s like they say in The Prestige: Making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. But we’re not talking about magic, we’re talking about space travel—and SpaceX has achieved a small but notable triumph today. In the first successful rocket launch since an attempted launch (carrying supplies to the International Space Station) in June exploded, SpaceX made history by returning the rocket booster to its launch pad. This is the first time that an unmanned rocket has landed vertically at Cape Canaveral.
In a video from NPR, of the SpaceX’s hosts made a good analogy for the difficulty of this landing: “It’s like launching a pencil over the Empire State Building, having it reverse, come back down, and land on a shoebox, in a windstorm.” SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off late Monday night and released 11 small satellites from communications company ORBCOMM; then, the leftover booster returned to the landing pad, amid thunderous cheers.
“This is a fundamental step change in technology compared to any rockets that have ever flown,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told reporters after the launch. If SpaceX can recycle this leftover booster on future flights, it can drastically cut down on some of the costs of space travel.
You can watch the aforementioned explanation, as well as the jubilant response from the SpaceX crew as the rocket touches down. (Start at about 31:30, and beware an errant expletive, but can you really blame them?)