This afternoon, SpaceX will attempt to make history. At 4:33 p.m. Eastern, a Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch carrying 4,300 pounds of cargo from Cape Canaveral, Fla. to the International Space Station. As the uncrewed Dragon capsule makes its way up into the atmosphere, it will shed the booster rockets that usually burn up, break apart, or sink into the ocean. That part, while incredible in and of itself, isn’t historic. It’s what comes next that counts.
Those shed booster rockets are usually necessary casualties of a launch. Getting into space is no easy task, and the more pounds a craft can drop in its ascent, the easier it is to climb with the fuel on-hand. But now, SpaceX is trying something new: reusing those normally discarded rockets by attempting to land them vertically on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket is equipped with fins that will help engineers guide and slow it down upon descent. Later, a set of legs will unfold to aid in a controlled and stabilized landing. If they can pull it off, the process will save money and has the potential to make other space missions cheaper.
SpaceX has been experimenting with this idea for years and first attempted this particular strategy in January. That attempt failed due to lack of hydraulic fluid, which led to an angled landing, fuel leak, and explosion. Still, the fact that the rocket made it to the target at all is hugely promising. Weather permitting, you can watch today’s launch below, or if the embed doesn't work, on the SpaceX livestream or on NASA TV.