Elon Musk just doesn’t sleep. At around midnight Pacific time, the SpaceX CEO posted a picture to his Instagram of a Falcon rocket ready for takeoff. The feat of engineering is vital to SpaceX’s success, and Musk has given us a glimpse into the possible future of Mars exploration. It’s a stunning reminder of just how far the team has come since its founding back in 2002.
SpaceX has had a rocky start, with an “anomaly” explosion in September putting the company’s public progress on hold: A Falcon 9 rocket, preparing to launch a Facebook Aquila satellite into orbit, exploded without warning, an incident that Musk spent months trying to figure out. Eventually, Musk discovered the culprit was a complex fueling error.
SpaceX completed its next mission this past weekend, after which it successfully landed on a drone ship. The mission was used to deploy ten Iridium Communications satellites, as part of its commitment to third parties to help complete private sector missions.
Reusing the Falcon 9 rocket is a crucial part of SpaceX’s plan, which is why the explosion was such a major setback. Reusable rockets greatly decrease the cost of operations, and these savings over time could help reduce the cost of an eventual mission to Mars. As it will be difficult to bring the astronauts back from Mars, the mission is intended as a one-way trip.
In the above Instagram photo, we may be looking at a rocket that will take a dozen humans to the red planet for the first time.