SpaceX Successfully Launches and Lands Starship — a Milestone in Elon Musk's Quest for Mars
After four unsuccessful launches that ended in fiery explosions, SpaceX on Wednesday successfully launched and landed its Starship rocketship, a stainless steel vehicle Elon Musk plans to one day use to shuttle people to and from Mars.
SpaceX said the completed mission was the company's fifth high-altitude flight test of a Starship prototype from Starbase in Texas — and just so happened to fall on the 60th anniversary of the first American to travel in space.
The most recent flight test in March failed after the vehicle "experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly" shortly after the landing burn started.
The Starship cooperated, however, for this go-round, and flew more than six miles about the Gulf of Mexico before it flipped and descended horizontally, then went vertical once more in time for landing, according to the Associated Press.
The outlet reported that a fire at the base of the 160-foot rocket was extinguished quickly.
Live feed of Starship SN15 flight test → https://t.co/Hs5C53qBxb https://t.co/chZjdVAute
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 5, 2021
"Starship landing nominal!" Musk, the CEO and founder of SpaceX, tweeted shortly after.
Starship landing nominal!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 5, 2021
SpaceX said the Starship was powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, and then descended under "active aerodynamic control, accomplished by independent movement of two forward and two alt flaps on the vehicle."
The four flaps were actuated by an onboard flight computer to control the vehicle's altitude during flight, and enable precise landing at the intended location.
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SpaceX said the point of the test flights are to improve understanding and development of "a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration interplanetary flights, and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond."
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Musk raised eyebrows last month when he said in an interview that "a bunch of people will probably die" in the beginning stages of Mars exploration as experts work out the kinks of traveling to the Red Planet.
"Going to Mars reads like that ad book for [explorer Ernest] Shackleton going to the Antarctic," Musk, 49, told Peter Diamandis in a lengthy interview that streamed live on YouTube on Thursday. "It's dangerous, it's uncomfortable, it's a long journey. You might not come back alive. But it's a glorious adventure, and it'll be an amazing experience."
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Musk initially hoped that SpaceX would be able to send people to Mars by 2024, but later revised the goal to a later date.
In December, he said he was "highly confident" that his company could land humans on Mars by 2026, according to CNBC.
"If we get lucky, maybe four years. We want to send an uncrewed vehicle there in two years," he reportedly said at an award show webcast from Berlin.