The world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, launched its first commercial mission on Thursday from Florida, offering a massive boost to both billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s space company and hopes of the colonization of Mars.
Heavy, which is 23-stories tall, equal to roughly 250 feet, and which previously launched Musk’s cherry red Tesla roadster to space in a 2018 debut test flight, blasted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center carrying its first customer payload. SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker said during a live stream: “T plus 33 seconds into flight, under the power of 5.1 million pounds of thrust, Falcon Heavy is headed to space.” About three minutes after clearing the pad, Heavy’s two side boosters separated from the core rocket for a synchronized landing at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, prompting loud cheers from SpaceX engineers in the company’s Hawthorne, California headquarters.
The middle booster, after pushing the payload into space, returned nearly 10 minutes later for a successful landing on SpaceX’s seafaring drone ship 400 miles (645 km) off the Florida coast.
In the 2018 test mission, Heavy’s core booster missed the vessel and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
“The Falcons have landed”, Musk wrote on Twitter, inaugurating the first successful recovery of all three rocket boosters, which will be refurbished and re-fly in another Falcon Heavy mission this summer to carry a swarm of military and science satellites for the Air Force.