For its third landing at sea and its fourth overall on Earth, SpaceX gives us the view from the best seat in the house.
Was it really only a little over half a year ago when the idea of landing a rocket that had been to outer space still seemed a little like the stuff of science fiction? Today, it's running the risk of becoming routine (and science, of course, is the better for it). Yesterday SpaceX successfully landed one of its Falcon 9 rocket stages on earth for the fourth time, and this time they felt so comfortable about it they strapped a camera on it so we could see what it would look like if we were riding it like Dr. Strangelove's Major Kong.
Videos from SpaceX's previous successful landings have largely been taken from ground level, but this is the first to show what it's like onboard the booster itself. Though sped up considerably from real time, the video is 30 seconds of pure wonder. Its payload of a Thaicom commercial communications satellite released, the Falcon 9's first stage hurtles back from low orbit and through Earth's atmosphere, its fins adjusting as a way of steering over an intimidating swath of ocean. Suddenly, beneath it, appears the landing platform—a "drone" barge named "Of Course I Still Love You" floating 422 miles off the Florida coast. As if it were the easiest thing in the world, it coasts to a stop on the "X" of the SpaceX logo.
In fact, it wasn't. Much as with the other successful barge landing from earlier this month, the Falcon 9 was practically running on empty by the time it reached the barge. And there's still a chance that it could topple over before Musk's team gets out there to weld it to the deck, even after so impressive a show.
"Rocket landing speed was close to design max & used up contingency crush core, hence back & forth motion. Prob ok, but some risk of tipping," Musk said in a tweet yesterday.
But we'll worry about that later. For now, let's admire the fact that not only is Musk and his team perfecting the science behind their approach, but they're also proving themselves adept at the showmanship it deserves.
The way things are going, maybe we'll see that planned unmanned landing on Mars in 2018 after all.