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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - SpaceX Celebrates Historic Rocket Launch, Landing

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Six months after one of its rockets exploded after launch, privately-owned SpaceX resumed operations Monday with a dramatic nighttime launch and a historic landing of its first-stage booster.
Six months after one of its rockets exploded after launch, privately-owned SpaceX resumed operations Monday with a dramatic nighttime launch and a historic landing of its first-stage booster.

The video of the massive SpaceX rocket landing safely back on Earth was like the take-off, but in reverse. The rocket is called Falcon 9.

And the safe landing is a big deal.

It means that space travel could become a lot easier in the future.

Normally rockets deliver their payload - a satellite, for example, or supplies - and then burn up on their way back to Earth.

What the SpaceX mission proved Monday night is that a rocket may be able to safely return to Earth and be used again.

The successful landing is even more notable considering a similar rocket failed when it launched six months ago.

The way it works is that the entire rocket unit leaves Earth's atmosphere, and then the 15-story-tall rocket booster separates, flips and comes back to a landing zone six miles away.

If the rocket booster can be used again it means the cost of entering space can be significantly reduced.

For example, similar boosters cost $60 million to build, but are only used once. If SpaceX is a success, it will cost $60 million once, and then future missions will only include the cost of repairs and fuel.

The owner of SpaceX is businessman Elon Musk. He also owns the Tesla electric car company.

A company called OrbComm hired SpaceX to deploy 11 satellites. That part of the mission was a success, too.

Musk says the success of this week's launch and return is exciting, but his real goal is to send a human mission to Mars.

"This was a critical step along the way to being able to establish a city on Mars. That's what all this is about."

The rocket launch and landing took place in Cape Canaveral, Florida, a city famous for many other successful rocket launches, but none where the booster returned in one piece.

Observers say the test will have to be repeated several times to prove that it is possible to reuse space rockets.

I'm Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English based on reporting from the Associated Press. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

Do you think humans will be able to live on Mars? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section or on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

booster - n. part of a rocket that provides force for the launch and the first part of the flight

massive - adj. very large and heavy

payload - n. the amount of goods or material that is carried by a vehicle (such as a truck)

story - n. a group of rooms or an area that forms one floor level of a building

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