We Are Officially One Step Closer to “The Martian”

The deal with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, explained

By The Editors

Your Two-Minute Guide to SpaceX
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22 December 2015

Your newsfeed this week is probably filled with talk of SpaceX, Mars travel, rockets and words of adoration for Elon Musk. For those who haven’t been paying attention, here’s a primer, along with some pretty pictures that hint at the actual future of space travel.

What's this SpaceX thing I’m seeing everywhere? It sounds sci-fi, but it’s not. Founded by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk in 2002, SpaceX is the visionary’s plan to reduce the cost of space travel and aid the colonization of Mars.

What have they done so far? They were the first privately funded company to 1) reach orbit with a liquid-propellant rocket, 2) reach the International Space Station and 3) launch/orbit/recover a spacecraft. They’ve also launched satellites (including the Deep Space Climate Observatory) and they have a contract with NASA, meaning most of our space-flight dreams rest with these guys.

Why was this week so special? SpaceX was able to successfully deploy satellites into space, then have the “first stage” of their rocket tumble to Earth and successfully land on the grounds of Cape Canaveral, intact and reusable.

Is that hard? F*** yeah it’s hard. To quote one SpaceX guru on the ground, it’s “like launching a pencil over the Empire State Building, having it reverse, come back down and land on the ground in a shoebox in a windstorm.”

What did it look like? See for yourself.

Were the SpaceX people happy/relieved? See for yourself.

Haven’t they failed before? Yes. SpaceX had never attempted to land a rocket on land. They had tried with floating landing pads (“drone ships”) before this. In January one of their rockets crashed. Weather screwed up another landing in February, one in April didn’t work and in June a SpaceX rocket filled with cargo for the ISS exploded after take-off.  

That’s nice. But hey, isn’t Jeff Bezos ahead of the curve here? So the Amazon CEO has his own space travel company, Blue Origin. They stuck a landing last month — but to be fair, Musk pointed out that that was a “suborbital trip,” which isn’t quite the same thing. Still, Bezos is throwing shade.

Ah, I see. How’s this all affect the future of space travel? If we have reusable rockets, we lower the cost of space travel. Meaning, we could potentially have “space tourism” and the ability to strand Matt Damon on Mars.

Is Elon Musk Jesus? No. That said, "It's a revolutionary moment," he admitted after the landing.

Are there cool photos of this thing? Glad you asked. Gizmodo has the “10 most badass.”

Who should I follow for more info? We like SpaceFlight Insider. Oh, and Elon Musk, of course.

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