Elon Musk really wants to be able to get to Mars and back. The Moon is in play as well. Those are the core goals of what he and his company are working on these days. But before they can even consider doing so they need to solve a little problem with the SpaceX Starship having this one slight little hiccup with its missions. Namely, it keeps blowing up. Well, Thursday the company might have gotten a little closer to the mission goal with the ship taking off and landing without incident. The New York Times is reporting that this latest test was a rousing success and we might be that much closer to actually getting humans to Mars, and more importantly, back again.
The SpaceX Starship test went down on Wednesday with the rocket taking off from the launch pad and then, and this is the most important part, actually landing on the launchpad without incident. It’s been that second part that’s been the issue of late. SpaceX has had seemingly little trouble getting the rockets up in the air, the issues come when they are trying to return them safely to the ground. This latest test had no such problems with everyone involved reporting that this mission was without any major problem. Check out this video from Twitter user Erdayastronaut who focuses on educational content around space exploration, and also gets pretty freaking excited about the outcome:
You can see from the video that the SpaceX Starship rocket sticks the landing in a big way, slowly lowering itself back down to Earth and onto the launchpad. The fire spewing out from underneath the ship isn’t a concern, but rather just the rocket expelling the last of its fuel before touching down. In all, this was a major success for SpaceX who has been trying to perfect this part of the mission for some time. Even Elon Musk himself took to Twitter to do a little update/ victory lap about the results.
The reason the SpaceX Starship landing safely on the launch pad after a mission is so critical is because the company is trying to solve the case of repeatable processes when it comes to space exploration. It’s been a long-held practice to use a rocket and then jettison it into space one “finished” with the lift-off. But SpaceX understands this isn’t going to be a functional practice when it comes to Mars and other distant missions. The rockets must be able to be reused and repurposed. Hence, they need to get back onto the ground in one piece.
The issue has been this idea of landing in “one-piece”. The last few SpaceX Starship missions have had, well, problems. First, one exploded when coming in for a landing after getting into a bellyflop-type position that was anything but optimal. Then it happened again with the rocket not being able to fully correct its position before impact. Then, most recently, SpaceX actually landed the rocket, but it still exploded. The company didn’t seem all that discouraged, but it was becoming something of a pattern.
This most recent SpaceX Starship landing is a massive step forward in long-term space exploration and begins to solve one of the biggest issues remaining for distant missions. If SpaceX can safely launch and then land rockets then we are getting closer to the ultimate goal: getting to Mars and then coming back.