SpaceX is gearing up to get its proverbial ass to Mars. For the first time tonight, the aerospace company will launch an already-used Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying 6,000 lbs (2,721 kilograms) of supplies and science experiments. The spacecraft will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and naturally, NASA TV will be broadcasting the whole thing live starting at 5:15pm EDT. The launch itself is set to begin at 5:55pm EDT.
In March, SpaceX made history by successfully launching a refurbished Falcon 9 rocket into orbital space—and landing it. The company’s founder, Elon Musk, has long promulgated the importance of reusable rockets and spacecraft, mainly as a way of cutting costs associated with launch. Achieving reusability is a critical step toward Musk’s ultimate goal of establishing a Martian colony, since it’ll allow passengers to actually be able to afford the travel there. It’ll still be expensive, though.
“Reusability, for both rockets and spacecraft, is something SpaceX has been working toward since their founding,” Phil Larson, former Obama space policy advisor and SpaceX official, told Gizmodo. “The progress they’re making on both fronts is exciting for the industry and bodes well for the future of access to space. It’s tough to throwaway a rocket each time you use it and expect the cost of launch to lower dramatically—the same goes for spacecraft. Ferrying cargo and crew to space is still expensive, and reusing Dragon will be a key step in helping lower the cost of space access.”
The last time this particular Dragon touched space was in September 2014, on a resupply mission to the ISS. While it’s unclear how much of the spacecraft was replaced, according to Ars Technica, it had to install a new trunk and solar panels. If tonight’s launch is successful, Dragon will be part of an exclusive club of reusable spacecraft. In 1981, NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia became the first American spacecraft to launch and land twice. A Soviet spacecraft preceded this in 1977, according to Ars Technica. And just this past year, an Air Force spy plane quietly achieved the same feat.
In short, tonight’s a big deal, and it’ll be pretty damn cool to watch SpaceX make history again. Weather permitting, of course.