SpaceX's Latest Launch-and-Landing Photo Is Rocket-Fueled Glory

Image: John Raoux / Associated Press
Image: John Raoux / Associated Press

If you needed proof that the future of reusable rocket technology is going to be spectacular, look no further than SpaceX’s latest launch-and-landing time exposure photo, which shows a Falcon 9 rocket screaming away from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (left), before the first stage booster lands gently back on terra firma (right).

It was the fifth time SpaceX successfully landed the first stage booster of a Falcon 9 rocket back on Earth, and the second successful ground-based landing (the three most recent landings have occurred on Of Course I Still Love You, the offshore barge appropriately named after a sentient intergalactic spaceship). For me, it’s astonishing to see just how quickly SpaceX is normalizing something that engineers and space nerds have been dreaming of for more than half a century.

But we shouldn’t let ourselves get complacent. This shit is still incredible.

Maddie Stone is a freelancer based in Philadelphia.

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Very Little Gravitas Indeed

Nice photo. Gotta say this kid took an even better one, by a long shot.

My favorite bit takes a zoom in — Check the very faint end of the arcing launch trail, and you can see a puff from the nitrogen gas reaction control thrusters, and then diverging trails from the first stage reversing it’s horizontal flight and the second stage continuing to orbit. That little fishhook bit is really neat — Instead of fighting momentum and trying to thrust back down to land, they just point the engines at the Eastern horizon and curve the flight path up and around so gravity cancels much of the momentum and they popup in a big loop over the cape, before dropping straight down via the two straight-line engine burns.