22 Dec After SpaceX sticks its landing, Elon Musk talks about a city on Mars
ABOARD THE ORLANDO PRINCESS OFF THE CAPE CANAVERAL COAST—On Monday night, Elon Musk jumped out of his space company’s launch control center to watch this one live.
The last time SpaceX launched a rocket, it blew up in a fireball. This one had to go right. But he always wanted to see if the company would be able to land the first stage of the rocket, a momentous first.
He was relieved that the launch went off flawlessly; that was the main goal. Then he saw the rocket reappear in the darkness over the Florida Space Coast, tilting toward a landing pad at Cape Canaveral. It seemed to be right on the mark, but then there was a massive boom, and he thought the worst: “It had exploded.”
“Well, at least we got close,” he said to himself.
But then he went back inside, and people were agog. The sound was a sonic boom– the shock wave of a rocket traveling through the air faster than the speed sound.
“There was this amazing video of the rocket standing there,” he recounted in a call with reporters Monday evening.
It was still standing there Tuesday morning. Viewed from this fishing vessel chartered by SpaceX, it towered some 15-stories tall, right next to the launch pad that shot John Glenn into orbit.
Many in the space community heralded SpaceX’s achievement of shooting a rocket into space and then recovering the first stage as another momentous step in the history of space flight, one they hope will touch off a boom in commercial space.
Being able to recover and reuse the first stage of rockets—the most expensive part because they house the engines—would dramatically lower the cost of space travel, a key step in making space more accessible.
“It would be like having an aircraft used many times when all the other aircraft could only be used once,” he said.
The savings with reusing a rocket would be substantial. The Falcon 9 costs about $60 million to build, and that’s on the low end, Musk said, and the fuel costs an additional $200,000.