Click the arrow to watch a helicopter view of the Falcon 9 landing. Video source: SpaceX YouTube channel.
“THE FALCON HAS LANDED” is the 72-point headline on the front page of this morning's Florida Today.
The front page of the December 22, 2015 Florida Today.
About two-and-a-half minutes later, the rocket's 14-story first stage dropped away and began the first of three engine burns to guide itself back toward a concrete pad at SpaceX’s “Landing Complex 1” at the Cape, the former Launch Complex 13.
Observers along the Space Coast and beyond could see rocket engines fire like a torch in darkness as the booster descended from as high as 124 miles up and slowed its fall from hypersonic speed.
A tremendous “boom” could be heard shortly after the stage touched down a few miles down the coast from where it had lifted off. Even [SpaceX founder Elon] Musk, from a vantage point several miles away, thought the rocket was a goner.
It turned out the touchdown coincided with the sonic boom created by the rocket's descent. Camera images showed the stage standing upright on four legs. The Falcon had landed.
A huge crowd of employees gathered at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, were jubilant, erupting in cheers and chants of “USA!”
Musk posted on Twitter:
11 satellites deployed to target orbit and Falcon has landed back at Cape Canaveral. Headed to LZ-1. Welcome back, baby!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2015
Once at Landing Zone 1, Musk posted this brief video clip he'd filmed of the Falcon 9 on the pad.
Live video from LZ-1 pic.twitter.com/Ve6gEXfOdh— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2015
The future will determine the historic importance of what happened here last night. It may be on the scale of what Chuck Yeager accomplished on October 14, 1947, when his Bell X-1 broke the sound barrier.
A fictional depiction of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, as seen in “The Right Stuff.” Video source: TheAtomicFlowers YouTube channel.