SpaceX landed a rocket on a boat five years ago—it changed everything

I was born a mere four months after the final Apollo astronauts brushed gray dust from their spacesuits and lifted off from the Moon. As my interest in space grew over the years, and writing about this industry became my profession, I felt a deepening sense of regret for missing that glorious moment of triumph in our shared space history. I lived with that regret for decades—right up until April 8, 2016.

Five years ago today, SpaceX successfully landed a Falcon 9 rocket first stage on a boat.

I was not prepared for the experience of watching a skinny, black-and-white rocket fall out of the sky, against the azure backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, and land on a small drone ship. As whitecaps crashed into the side of the boat, it seemed like a portal opening into the future. This breakthrough in rocket technology washed away any regrets I had about missing Apollo. For, in my mind, landing a Falcon 9 first stage at sea represented an essential step toward reducing the cost of getting people and payloads into space and unlocked a bright spacefaring future.

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