The Space Race Is Back On, Baby
Maybe the United States of America hasn’t lost The Right Stuff after all. After months of testing to correct a problem in the first stage boosters of their reusable rockets, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket, and then put the 15-story high first stage booster – the portion that actually has enough thrust to overcome the earth’s gravity – right back on the ground…vertically, just minutes after and only six miles from where it blasted off into space. In space flight, this is a big deal.
The secret to the success of this particular launch and self-recovery might well be the venue SpaceX was using. Instead of launching and then trying to land on barges in the ocean, this time SpaceX rented a reinforced concrete launch pad owned by the Air Force at Cape Canaveral that was used to launch Atlas rockets (the big boys that lifted the Apollo missions to the moon) for the landing. The rocket itself was carrying a payload of eleven small satellites. Once the boosters pushed it all into orbit two minutes into the fight, SpaceX put the rocket back on the ground to the cheers of the control rooms at Cape Canaveral AND employees at SpaceX in California who crammed into headquarters to watch.
The top officer at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, noted that the returning booster “placed the exclamation mark on 2015.”
“This was a first for us at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and I can’t even begin to describe the excitement the team feels right now having been a part of this historic first-stage rocket landing,” Monteith said in a statement….
“This has been a wildly successful return to flight for SpaceX,” said one SpaceX launch commentator. “We made history today.”
Yes the people of SpaceX and the crews at Cape Canaveral did. This effort on the part of the company owned by Elon Musk of Tesla fame is one of the pieces in the puzzle of being viable in the space race and keeping costs down all at the same time. A reusable rocket does not completely replace the Space Shuttle and its functionality, but it does reduce our dependence on partner countries and their generosity for getting supplies to the International Space Station and launching satellites into orbit. Check out what the landing looked like:
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For space junkies, this made our day. Congratulations to the teams at SpaceX and Cape Canaveral for working together and not giving up in the face of failure. The testing process is never publicized, but every achievement of this sort takes learning from what has gone wrong. In the end, the product is just so right.
More images of history made at Yahoo.