A Falcon 9 rocket with a pre-flown first stage launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base tonight (Oct. 7) at 10:21 p.m. EDT (7:21 p.m. local time; 0221 GMT on Oct. 8), successfully delivering Argentina's SAOCOM-1A Earth-observation satellite to orbit.
And, less than 8 minutes after liftoff, the booster's first stage came back to Earth for a pinpoint touchdown at SpaceX's Vandenberg landing zone, just a quarter-mile (400 meters) from its launch pad. [See Amazing Photos of SpaceX's SAOCOM-1A Launch]
"This is great news for everyone here at SpaceX," Tom Praderio, a SpaceX firmware engineer, said during live launch commentary tonight. "We're all very excited."
The twilight launch created a spectacular sight in the night sky for spectators in Southern California, who took to Twitter to share their amazing photos. One of those viewers was Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti.
"Nope, definitely not aliens," Garcetti wrote on Twitter as he posted an amazing photo. "What you’re looking at is the first launch and landing of the @SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the West Coast. The rocket took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:21 p.m. and landed safely back on Earth."
SpaceX had already pulled off more than two dozen first-stage landings during orbital liftoffs, with the boosters coming down on robotic "drone ships" stationed in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and on terra firma at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. But tonight's event marked SpaceX's first-ever land touchdown on the West Coast.
Such landings are part of SpaceX's push to develop fully and rapidly reusable rockets and spacecraft, a breakthrough that company founder and CEO Elon Musk has stressed could cut the cost of spaceflight enough to make grand exploration feats such as the settlement of Mars economically feasible.
In keeping with that vision, tonight marked the second flight for this particular Falcon 9 first stage, which also helped loft 10 Iridium Next commercial communications satellites from Vandenberg on July 25.
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