In what’s quickly becoming humanity’s favorite spectator sport, SpaceX will, for the third time this year, attempt to land a Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the middle of the ocean.
NASA’s coverage of the event begins at 9 a.m. ET, and weather permitting, the rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:21 a.m. ET.
The main objective of the mission is to deliver a SpaceX Dragon capsule filled with over two and a half tons of supplies to the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule, scheduled to arrive at the ISS Tuesday, will be SpaceX’s seventh robotic cargo resupply mission,as part of a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.
But as the Dragon is being lifted into higher orbit by the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, the rocket’s first stage—which holds most of the engines and fuel—will be guided autonomously back down to Earth, where it’ll attempt to to land softly on the drone barge ‘Of Course I Still Love You.’ (That ship, and the barge’s ill-fated predecessor ‘Just Read The Instructions,’ both take their names from sentient drone spacecraft in science fiction writer Iain M. Banks’s Culture series).
The last two audacious attempts to land a rocket in the ocean have ended in spectacularly fiery destruction, but as SpaceX pointed out recently, landing rockets on ships is really freakin’ hard. Matter of fact, the human race has never done anything quite like it before. If today’s landing is a success, it’ll be a major step forward for reusable rocket technology, which has the potential to dramatically drive down launch costs and pave the way toward manned expeditions to Mars.
If not, well, the Internet is sure to cook up some epic new explosion GIFs today. Either way, you won’t want to miss it. NASA’s live stream of the launch begins at 9 a.m. ET, and you can tune in right here:
Update: Well, folks, looks like something went wrong. SpaceX and NASA are putting together a team to figure out what exactly happened, but for those watching the stream, the rocket appears to have blown up in mid air. We’ll update as soon as we know more.
Top image: SpaceX Flickr