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SpaceX’s Second Successful Rocket Landing Is Actually More Impressive Than the First

People like to focus on “firsts” a lot when it comes to science—myself included—because new things just tend to be more exciting. However, the human mind’s lack of interest in something it has deemed old news is not exactly shared by objective reality, as first isn’t always best. This is exemplified by SpaceX’s second successful drone ship rocket landing last night (which, to be fair, was kind of a “first” in its own right).

First of all, it’s pretty exciting that they nailed two in a row in and of itself. It’s not really indicative of them suddenly having worked out all the bugs and an immediate utopia of being able to launch and land rockets at will, but it’s promising nonetheless. However, this second landing was remarkable not only in its increased difficulty over the first, but because that difficulty is a direct result of a more demanding primary mission.

While the mission undertaken by their first rocket to land successfully was to put International Space Station supplies into low Earth orbit, this time, they were propelling JCSAT-14, a Japanese communications satellite, to a geosynchronous orbit at 22,000 miles above the Earth—nearly 100 times as far away as the approximately 250 mile altitude of the International Space Station. That means that the rocket had to be traveling much faster, making landing it a more difficult task. Even SpaceX’s Elon Musk himself didn’t really expect to pull it off.

They did succeed, however (as you can see above in GIF form), which is an encouraging sign that reusable rockets are nearing a reality for a variety of space missions with varying degrees of difficulty. To really dramatically decrease the cost, thus increasing the accessibility, of space travel—the whole point of safe landing, reusable rockets—going beyond low Earth orbit and still coming back safely is a must, and it has finally been done.

(featured image via SpaceX)

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Dan is many things, including a game developer, animator, martial artist, and at least semi-professional pancake chef. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (his dog), both of whom are the best, and he will never stop reminding The Last Jedi's detractors that Luke Skywalker's pivotal moment in Return of the Jedi was literally throwing his lightsaber away and refusing to fight.