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SpaceX Achieves Long Sought Historic Feat in Rocket Launch

by VOA News December 21, 2015

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 Falcon rocket blasted off from the U.S. spaceport in Cape Canaveral, Florida carrying 11 small satellites into low-Earth orbit for communications firm OrbComm. About two minutes into the flight, the rocket's first-stage separated cleanly from the second stage and began a controlled descent back to Earth.

Moments later, flight controllers and employees at SpaceX's California headquarters erupted in cheers as television cameras showed the rocket making a pinpoint vertical landing at a former Air Force missile launch site located about nine kilometers from the launch pad.

It was the first time a rocket launched into orbit successfully made a controlled landing on Earth. Another private space ferry company, Blue Origin, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeffrey Bezos, successfully landed a first-stage booster rocket last month after a non-orbital flight.

'Welcome back, baby!,' SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted shortly after touchdown. Landing a first-stage rocket back to Earth is part of SpaceX founder Elon Musk's goal of reusing rockets in order to reduce the cost of space travel.

The company's previous attempts, which involved landing the rocket on a floating barge, all ended in failure.

SpaceX is one of several companies contracted by the U.S. space agency NASA to ferry supplies, and, eventually, astronauts to the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit.

The company's Falcon 9 rocket failed during a resupply mission to the ISS. Monday's launch was the first since SpaceX redesigned and upgraded the powerful rocket.

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