First-stage rockets are one of the most expensive parts of space launches (a Falcon 9 costs about $60 million total). Making them reusable, goes SpaceX’s operating theory, will drastically lower the cost of access to space. But don’t start planning your vacation to Mars just yet. SpaceX still needs to perfect the process, make landing on a floating barge at least as reliable as liftoff. (Those aren’t perfect yet either, and when they really go wrong, they explode.)
Exciting as it was, the landing wasn’t even the point of today’s launch. After the first stage separated, the second stage continued burning for about eight minutes, bringing the Dragon cargo capsule on an intercept course with the International Space Station. Inside that module are a trove of goodies, including an inflatable habitat module, several new science experiments, and materials for keeping the station’s 250 ongoing experiments, well, ongoing. NASA expects the Dragon capsule will catch up to the space station by the morning of April 10.
Shortly before the rocket lifted off, NASA’s livestream announcer said something prescient: “Science for today, deep space exploration for tomorrow.” So, space is still hard, but the future just got a little bit closer.