On April 8th, the company SpaceX successfully landed the Falcon 9 rocket onto an unmanned barge that was approximately the size of a football field. This was the company’s fifth attempt and was significant because it allowed the rocket to be reused, greatly decreasing the cost of space travel. It is estimated that a flight with a reusable Falcon 9 rocket could cost a mere $5-7 million, making it one tenth the price of its predecessors.
SpaceX first launched its reusable test rocket at the beginning of last year. Since then it has crashed every time except for this one due to not landing vertically or a malfunction with the landing gear, usually resulting in a large explosion. SpaceX had managed to land its rocket on a launch pad on land before it launched this experiment. While landing on a launch pad is a major step, it was still necessary for them to practice doing it on a barge. Landing on a barge is far more difficult than landing on land, but it also has its advantages. For example, as long distance voyages require large amounts of fuel, having a landing pad that you can move closer to the rocket could be useful if the rocket is running low on fuel.
Elon Musk, the creator of SpaceX and the CEO of Tesla, estimates that SpaceX will be ready to transport U.S. astronauts by next year. This would be helpful because the U.S. currently depends on Russia to send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. America currently has to pay Russia over 70 million dollars for a one way ticket to the international space station. Russia has also refused to take the U.S. to the International Space Station during times of conflict between the two countries such as when the U.S. issued trade sanctions on Russia after it invaded Crimea.
Ultimately, this technology is a major step of advancement in the United States’s space program.