Since humans began regularly travelling to space, the hardest part of the journey has always been sticking the landing. Space X owner and CEO Elon Musk thinks he can fix that.
Speaking at the at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Musk just announced his space-travel company, Space X, has made a big breakthrough in its quest to launch a rocket and return it to Earth in a designated, targeted area. Space X's recently tested a Falcon 9 commercial rocket, that sent a cargo delivery the International Space Station, but then returned to Earth intact, using a series of boosters outfitted with landing legs that allowed the vessel to perform a soft-landing in the Atlantic Ocean.
The boosters were ruined and mostly lost in harsh ocean currents, but Musk said Space X collected enough data to know the soft-landing was successful. The results enthused Space X engineers so much, that they believe they can soon perform soft landings on actual land — and will be able to launch from and return a booster to Cape Canaveral by the end of the year.
Musk called the latest development "evolutionary, not revolutionary," adding "If we can recover the booster stage, the chance is there for revolutionary."
Other than the Space Shuttle (which required using up two huge booster rockets and a giant fuel tank on every launch), no one has yet built a space vehicle that can used multiple times. Musk's dream of using the same rockets over and over again (even the next day) would dramatically reduce the cost of putting things and people into orbit.
The next trick will be to get people to use them. Musk also told the press that he is filing a protest with the U.S. Air Force over their refusal to allow private companies to bid on projects that involve national security. He even went so far as to say that the Air Force's use of rocket engines that were manufactured in Russia, could be a violation of sanctions related to the crisis in Ukraine.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.