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It went up last night from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying 11 communications satellites into orbit. What makes this launch of the Falcon 9 vehicle special is that after the Stage 2 separation,  Stage 1 flipped its tail out for the return arc, fired its rocket motors for a second time and landed with pinpoint accuracy on its landing pad at Cape Canaveral. Watch and be amazed, as SpaceX brings us closer to the goal of affordable commercial space travel.

Three previous attempts to land the first stage of a launch vehicle had failed rather spectacularly. It wasn’t the finding the landing site part that was the problem. It was the falling over and exploding parts that were starting to get expensive. Each one of these launch vehicles, as tall as a 14 story building, costs as much to build as a commercial airliner.

Yesterday’s launch was for ORBCOMM,  a leading global provider of Machine-to-Machine communication and Internet of Things solutions. It wasn’t a manned mission, but the fact that it wasn’t means the launch vehicle being recoverable was a much bigger percentage of the mission from a budget standpoint. The payload could just as well have been the SpaceX Dragon capsule with a human crew, but considering the previous history of the Falcon 9, it’s probably best that it wasn’t.

“I think this is a critical step along the way towards being able to establish a city on Mars,” Elon Musk said on a call with reporters Monday night after the Falcon 9 successfully landed upright on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Mars.

The future is waiting, and Elon Musk and SpaceX are leading the way.

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