Do you know where you were at 4:53pm ET today? That was when SpaceX accomplished a feat they have tried five times before: landing an unpiloted rocket on a drone ship in the middle of the ocean. It was beyond amazing.
SpaceX, headed by Elon Musk, joined the space race in 2006 when they were awarded a contract by NASA to design and demonstrate a launch system to resupply cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Starting in 2008, they began collecting a string of first for a private space company:
- September 28, 2008: The first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket
- December 9, 2010: The first privately funded company to successfully launch orbit and recover a spacecraft
- May 25, 2012: The first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station
- December 3, 2013: The first private company to send a satellite into geosynchronous orbit
SpaceX developed their own launch vehicle, the Falcon 9, and their own spacecraft, Dragon. They have sent a cargo version of Dragon to the ISS successfully a total of five times now (including today’s launch). But of course the biggest news of the day is not a rocket launch, but a rocket landing.
Elon Musk has been working on developing an autonomous rocket landing on a floating barge for a while now and until today he was 0 for 5. That all changed at 4:53pm ET. Ten minutes after launch, and just over seven minutes after the second stage engine fired to put the Dragon spacecraft into orbit, the Falcon’s first stage touched down on a platform no larger than 5,000 square meters. That may not be as easy to appreciate when you read it as it is to appreciate when you see it.
And if you’re like me, you’ll just want to watch it over and over and over again. You can watch the full hour long broadcast here. Or you can just stare at this gif all weekend because it’s that amazing.
I watched it happen live just a few hours ago and I’m still in awe of what we can accomplish. There’s a lot of frustration in the world these days, but when something like this happens, it reminds me just how great our imagination can be. We’ve gone to the moon and we’ve sent spacecraft to Pluto and we’ve got so many more places to go. Congrats to everyone at SpaceX on this incredible day.