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A video camera mounted on the first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket captured a view of something that was never seen before: the engine firing that eased the stage's splashdown into the Atlantic after a supersonic fall from outer space.
Imagery from the history-making feat was beamed back to SpaceX's team, cleaned up and tweeted out on Tuesday by the California-based rocket venture's billionaire founder, Elon Musk.
The first stage helped get SpaceX's robotic Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station, where it's currently docked. Although the stage couldn't be recovered, due to rough seas, the photo provides further evidence that SpaceX's rocket recovery system works. You can even see the deployment of the Falcon 9's 25-foot-long (7.6-meter-long) landing legs amid the engine's blast.
Musk, who is in charge of the Tesla electric-car company and the Solar City power-generating venture as well as SpaceX, saw the April 18 "soft landing" as a key test for what he hopes will be complete and rapid rocket reusability. Eventually, he wants Falcon 9 boosters to fly themselves back to a landing pad for the next launch, with the potential for a same-day turnaround.
He says that kind of reusability could drive down the cost of access to space to as little as 1 percent of what it is today, and possibly open the way for the settlement of Mars.
Update for 11 p.m. ET April 29: SpaceX has released video clips showing fragmentary views of the first-stage landing. The company is making the raw image data available for further processing, with the hope that crowdsourced expertise can improve the video quality. Check out SpaceX's update for full info.