If this were an old school 72-point headline, it may just read: “They Did It!” SpaceX, the pioneering aerospace company, led by inventive CEO Elon Musk, father of the Tesla electric supercar, just accomplished what many considered all but impossible. They shot a rocket into space … and landed it back on earth safely. For the first – and so far the only – time in history.
The stated purpose of the launch, which took off from USAF’s Cape Canaveral, was to deliver 11 Low Earth Orbit satellites, but everyone watching the live stream of the event all had one thing on their mind. Could SpaceX really do what Musk said they could: land that rocket back on the pad?
Now, you might be thinking: wait, other spacecraft have landed safely. They used to do it all the time. That’s very true, but no one has ever successfully landed a “first stage” rocket, aka the bottom section of the rocket, fully intact. For decades, the solution to this It Can’t Be Done conundrum was simply to let the rocket serve its purpose as a thruster and allow it to crash back down to earth, considerable worse for wear and entirely out of service.
Reusable rockets have been a primary concern for all for-profit space endeavors, not just SpaceX. The cost associated with simply leaving a used up rocket shell out in space or allowing it to disintegrate in reentry or smash into the ocean are all too excessive for any bottom line conscious endeavor. Sure, government agencies can afford to toss billions away at every launch, but business tycoons are allergic to that sort of waste.
More than a cost-saving move, the successful launch-re-entry-landing of the rocket also served a different and, arguably, more important purpose. It reignited America’s wonder at space flight. After decades of “routine” shuttle flights, American’s grew bored with the final frontier. Interest in the program waned, and, with it, funding for space exploration.
Enter the world’s biggest gamblers, guys like Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. They wanted to get us back into space and make money in the process. But, to do both, they would need consumer enthusiasm reignited. Well, nothing sparks a crowd like performing the impossible. And that result was on clear display when the Falcon rocket landed safely on the pad. Cheers erupted, then, spontaneously, “USA! USA! USA!”
David Milberg is an investor from NYC.