SpaceX resumed station deliveries for NASA on Friday, and in a double triumph, successfully landed its booster rocket on an ocean platform for the first time. The unmanned Falcon rocket soared into a clear afternoon sky, carrying a full load of supplies for the International Space Station as well as a futuristic pop-up room. After sending the Dragon capsule on its way, the first-stage booster peeled away. Instead of dropping into the Atlantic like leftover junk, the 15-story booster steered to an upright touchdown on the barge, withstanding 50mph gusts. Engines slowed its descent, supporting legs popped out and the final touchdown appeared neat and clean.
"The rocket landed instead of putting a hole in the ship—or tipping over—so we're really excited about that," SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk told reporters at the Florida launch site. Although SpaceX managed to land a spent booster rocket on the ground at Cape Canaveral in December, touchdowns at sea had proven elusive, with several attempts over the past year ending in explosions on the barge. Musk's goal is to make rockets as reusable and cost-effective as airplanes. He hopes to reuse this particular booster in June on another orbital flight, following 10 test firings on the pad. (Read more SpaceX stories.)