On Tuesday, SpaceX pulled off its biggest achievement yet, launching and landing its much-anticipated monster rocket Falcon Heavy. But one of the most undeniably cool moments of the mission was definitely watching the big rocket’s boosters return to Earth.
There were plenty of emotional highlights for the Falcon Heavy launch, from the initial realization this goliath was actually going to blast off successfully to the moment that David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” began to play as Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster began its infinite voyage to the red planet. Nothing though was quite as straight-up awesome as the shot of both the side boosters landing simultaneously on SpaceX’s ground pad in Cape Canaveral.
It was a textbook landing for the two boosters, which came down on Landing Pads One and Two nearly simultaneously. But then this would be old hat for both of them, as they were each recovered and reused from previous Falcon 9 missions. One had landed on the ground pad before, while the other had landed on one of the floating droneships that provide a landing spot in the middle of the ocean.
Speaking of which, it is less clear as of this writing what exactly happened with the central core booster. The plan was for it to land on the Atlantic Ocean droneship Of Course I Still Love You, though this is all the webcast revealed about its fate.
The Falcon Heavy rocket comprises three Falcon 9 rockets. The central core is specially strengthened and contains both the first and second stages, while the side boosters are just the first stages of the additional Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX sought to land all three, though the greater distance traveled and greater stress endured by the core booster meant it was always going to be the least likely to recover.
Whatever the ultimate fate of core booster, the successful landing of the side boosters makes for one incredible visual, and an impressive proof of concept for the idea that Falcon Heavy — a rocket powerful enough to take humans back to the moon — can be sufficiently reusable to make SpaceX’s vision of low-cost, repeatable spaceflight that much more a reality.
If you missed it, here’s the full mission:
Now watch this: SpaceX “Starman” Mission: Video Shows Expectations vs. Reality
With additional reporting by Rae Paoletta.