SpaceX Finally Launches a Starship Rocket That Returns to Earth Safely

SpaceX is getting ever closer to debuting its Starship rocket.

Elon Musk’s space-exploration company successfully launched Starship on Thursday during its fourth test flight, The Wall Street Journal reported. Most notably, the spacecraft made a controlled splashdown in the Indian Ocean, a feat that it had yet to accomplish.

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This was the first successful reentry for the Starship rocket. The first two test flights, which took place last year, resulted in the rocket exploding. A third flight, in March, was more fruitful, but the rocket eventually burned up over the ocean during its return to Earth. On Thursday, along with the rocket splashing down, the vehicle’s booster similarly landed softly in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Starship rocket is an important part of Musk’s plans for SpaceX, as well as American space travel more broadly. NASA is planning to use the craft to return astronauts to the moon during its upcoming Artemis mission. Because of delays with developing Starship, though, that program has been pushed back until at least September 2026.

Personally, Musk is looking to use Starship to make SpaceX an even more productive company. He’s hoping that the 400-foot-tall rocket will help SpaceX launch more satellites for its Starlink internet, send a space station and moon rovers into the cosmos, and even take people to Mars, the WSJ noted. Before any of that can happen, though, SpaceX needs to prove that Starship can carry out its most basic of functions.

This week’s test flight is a reassuring move in that direction. Being able to safely return the spacecraft and the booster is key to making Starship reusable. On Thursday, despite the extreme heat and pressure that worked against the rocket upon reentry, Starship was able to make a controlled landing. Yet, some debris did come off the vehicle, the rocket lost many tiles, and a flap was damaged.

Even still, it’s clear that SpaceX is getting closer and closer to its final goal when it comes to Starship. In just a couple of years, we may get to see a group of astronauts—decked out in their Prada spacesuits—head to the moon via the rocket. And some years after that, perhaps we ourselves will be soaring toward Mars aboard the Starship craft.

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