A Falcon 9 rocket designed and built by private aerospace company SpaceX successfully touched down on a floating platform docked off the coast of Florida. This was the first time the company was able to bring one of the boosters down for a gentle landing. Until this latest touchdown, each attempt has ended in a crash.
Soon after the rocket touched down on the barge, named "Of Course I Still Love You," mission engineers announced the landing on Twitter.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 8, 2016
This was the fifth attempt to land the first stage booster rocket. The team had touched down on land before, but this return was the first successful touchdown on the barge.
The Falcon 9 rocket carried a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The first stage of the booster rocket came back to Earth, firing retrorockets before touching down on the landing barge. The cargo ship that docked at the orbiting outpost brought thousands of pounds of supplies to the crew of the space station.
The SpaceX crew will continue to land on the floating platform, testing capabilities of the vehicle. This launch marked the first flight of the Dragon spacecraft since one of the craft exploded during launch in June 2015.
Most rockets currently in use worldwide are disposable, burning up in the atmosphere after a single flight. Having the ability to reuse boosters could greatly reduce the cost of reaching orbit.
SpaceX is developing a series of rockets for use in a wide variety of situations. Each of these systems would, theoretically, be able to land on either land or an ocean-borne platform.
A floating barge is a preferable launching pad for high-velocity missions, while touching down on land would be the first choice for other flights. This dual ability could radically alter the design of future spacecraft, and would make it possible to land rockets nearly anywhere in the world.
Before SpaceX declares the landing to be a complete success, mission engineers will need to examine the booster for any signs of damage. Still, after a series of occasional explosive failures, the latest landing at least looks like a resounding success.