In 10 Minutes, SpaceX Made History

Booster rocket lands vertically after putting satellites in orbit
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2015 5:10 AM CST
Updated Dec 22, 2015 6:53 AM CST
SpaceX Pulls Off Historic Spaceflight First
The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch appears in the distance from the back of River Rocks dockside restaurant along the Indian River, south of Rockledge. Fla., Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. SpaceX sent the rocket soaring toward orbit with 11 small satellites, its first mission since an accident last summer.   (Tim Shortt/Florida Today via AP)

SpaceX dusted off its Falcon rocket Monday night, launching it toward orbit for the first time since an accident over the summer. That first part was successful; the second part was, in the words of Elon Musk, "a revolutionary moment": The New York Times reports as the "second stage of the rocket," which was carrying 11 satellites, kept heading toward orbit, the "engines of the booster stage reignited to turn it around." Ten minutes after liftoff, the 15-story leftover booster landed back in Cape Canaveral, Fla., vertically. It's the first time that's been achieved with an unmanned rocket. What else you need to know about the historic moment:

  • The tweets: "Welcome back, baby!" Musk tweeted following touchdown. (Musk's first reaction, however, was to assume the rocket had exploded. The AP reports he ran outside and thought the sonic boom he heard spelled doom. Upon reentering Launch Control video showed him it was standing.) Rival Jeff Bezos offered this: "Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon's suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!"
  • About that tweet: The Atlantic points out that it "gleefully [ignores] the orbital-suborbital difference." Last month, Bezos' Blue Origin space firm launched its own reusable rocket into space (to a suborbital height of about 62 miles), which Musk noted was very different from launching something into orbit.

  • The icing on the record-setting cake: Musk pointed out that this wasn't just a successful test run, but rather a purposeful mission, reports the AP. "We achieved recovery of the rocket in a mission that actually deployed 11 [data-relay] satellites" for New Jersey-based Orbcomm.
  • A remarkable photo, video from SpaceX: A long-exposure photo that captures launch, re-entry, and landing; this video shows the astounding landing.
  • Why this matters beyond the history books: "The most elusive initials in the business of space flight are SSTO—or single stage to orbit—the business of flying a reusable spacecraft that takes off in one piece, goes to space in one piece and lands in one piece," writes Jeffrey Kluger for Time. That is, he notes, how every airplane has ever worked. As for achieving this in space, what SpaceX did is "not the whole SSTO loaf, but an important half."
(More SpaceX stories.)

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