SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on Friday on a drone ship floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The landing is the first for the company, which had previous success landing the remotely operated rocket on land.
The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Friday at 4:43 pm EDT. The mission is the eight cargo resupply run to the International Space Station. Given SpaceX’s previous missions, the launch portion of Friday’s event was largely routine. The real excitement began when the company sought to land the Falcon 9 rocket upright on a drone ship.
The drone ship, cheekily named “Of Course I Still Love You,” bobbed up and down in the water while the company carefully landed the first stage on the ocean. SpaceX webcasts every launch with a running commentary by engineers working for the space company. This time, the commentary was understandably drowned out by the celebration going on in Hawthorne, California.
Reusable rockets that can land themselves are a huge step toward a mission to Mars. They are also a critical part of reducing the cost to reach orbit around the Earth — or even another planet. Traditional rockets are left to burn up on reentry, requiring NASA and private space flight companies to build a new rocket every time they launch.
Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, previously argued that a reusable rocket will be the only way that humans can travel to and from Mars.
The Falcon 9 successfully touched down on land in December 2015, making history. at the time. However, the drone ship landing on Friday was an especially big feat. Not only was the landing more difficult, Business Insider notes that a barge landing is a critical way to avoid harming humans.
SpaceX’s launch was also the first mission to the International Space Station since June 2015 when the Falcon 9 exploded 139 seconds after launch. The company expects to launch 18 times in 2016. You can check out the webcast of the launch and successful rocket landing below.