A year ago, SpaceX successfully launched and landed its Falcon 9 rocket for the first time at Cape Canaveral, Florida, making history with the early proof of concept toward a world of reusable rockets. The event made headlines, and the company has been hard at work tweaking and improving its design and procedures ever since. For the first time, now, we get an up close look at the launch and the rocket’s subsequent successful landing, largely from the perspective of the company’s CEO Elon Musk. National Geographic captured the anticipation and suspense of the entire launch, including Musk’s elated reaction.
One might think that a man at the helm of several multi-zillion dollar ventures would be a little more cool and collected, but part of Musk’s charm (and perhaps one of the keys to his success) is his passion. This video produced by National Geographic captures Musk’s wonder and enthusiasm with great accuracy, and even a little tenderness. The video begins with the early morning launch of the Falcon 9 rocket on December 22, 2015, which Musk watches on a video screen from inside the control center. Once the rocket is airborne, though, the inventor races outside to watch the bright spot travel across the black sky, with all the gusto of a proud father watching his child ride a bike for the first time.
Between shots of Musk, the video shows ground crew and support staff watching with excitement. Some people are holding hands; others are bouncing up and down. Everyone waits, albeit not so patiently, for the rocket’s landing attempt. The anticipation is palpable. Around the 1:30 mark, the rocket completes its transition to low Earth orbit and disappears for longer than expected, prompting Musk to comment, “Okay, this is bad.” His facial expression shifts instantly from excited expectation to fervent concern, and the rest of the crowd watching the black sky experiences a similar mood change.
Suddenly, a few seconds longer than anticipated, the rocket fires again as it descends back toward the landing site, and the crowd literally goes wild with celebration. Then, at 2:35, the rocket does exactly what Musk has wanted it to do from the inception of the idea: it touched down every so gently, landing on the X with extreme precision, and it did not fall over (as other rockets have done in previous attempts). Musk’s dream came true.
And so the 45-year-old entrepreneur did what anyone would do in the same situation: he ran at top speed back to the control center to congratulate his team and watch the stationary rocket on the video monitor. The man who dreamed of luxury self-driving electric cars, a human civilization on Mars, and an 800mph high-speed rail system was awe struck by a rocket that was simply standing still.