The future of space travel will depend on our ability to make rockets that can be used more than once, says SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. And on Saturday, he gave a crowd at the South by Southwest Interactive festival the world's first look at a step in that direction.
Musk, whose SpaceX Dragon is currently docked on the International Space Station, showed a packed exhibit hall a two-day-old video of Grasshopper, an experimental rocket. If fully realized, the rocket would propel spacecraft out of the earth's atmosphere, then flip around, sprout landing gear and return intact to the launch pad.
In the video, a 10-story-high Grasshopper rocket did just that - except for the leaving-the-atmosphere part. It blasted off, hovered, and then set itself down at virtually the same spot where it began. The video, with its Johnny Cash "Ring of Fire" soundtrack, drew cheers from the crowd.
It took courage and skill, to be sure. But the technology required to get a guy well on his way to outer space, then allow him to plummet safely back to Earth, deserves some credit, too.
From the one-of-a-kind Red Bull Stratos capsule to a pressurized space suit engineered specifically for the jump to a "smart" parachute designed to deploy if Baumgartner had spiraled out of control, the jump debuted tech that organizers say could contribute to the science world in other areas.