Being up late at night, days before Christmas holidays, crunching in school projects was a long forgotten memory for me. Though, being back at university after a period of work, it was a less dreaded experience now. Still, I was ready to welcome any distractions. Having been told that night was the night SpaceX would be attempting a miraculous landing, I welcomed it with open arms. After all, watching live rocket launches beat the heck of figuring our seasonal components for time series at 2 in the morning.
Watching the rocket launch, I couldn't help but chanting in my head, “Don't blow up! Don't blow! Don't blow up!” over and over again. Although the only recent rocket explosions I had witnessed happen after launching were from Ridley Scotts latest theatrical piece, The Martian.
When the first phase separated, my heart began racing. Watching it descend, at blazing speed, one could not help but mistake it for a falling meteor. I tried to imagine the kind of engineering that had gone into the whole thing. Making a rocket land back in a non-linear flight path, after travelling at speeds of up to 1.6Km per second must have been nothing short of prime science. It's easier to picture the scientists and engineers in a room, discussing how to pull it off. Though a little harder to put words in their mouth. As the rocket began approaching ground, the chanting started again:
“Don't blow up! Don't blow up! Don't blow up!".
I was as excited as the crowd at SpaceX, and likely just as nervous as them as well. I tried picturing the rocket trying to adjust its course, while descending. The amount of things that could have gone wrong was too much for me to picture. So I just watched, and waited.
Suddenly, the rocket started getting closer, and closer to the ground. As it began making its landing burn, I could sense from the feed it was coming in hot. Only now, a few dozen meters away from the group, it looked more like a falling star than a meteor. The crowd cheering, my heart thumping. And then… it did it. The rocket landed! At that moment, all I could feel was suspense.
“Don't blow up! Don't blow! Don't blow up!”
It didn't. And I went nuts. The same rocket that had been thrusting into the the air just a few minutes before, at thousands of Kilometers per hour, into an altitude of over 70km was now just sitting there. Still. As if nothing had happened.
They had done it! The first successful recovery of a rocket that had launched a payload into orbit.
After cheering “Yes!” like a maniac at 3 o'clock in the morning, I sat myself down and stared at the rocket for a while. At that moment, it had hit me that as a young adult, I had just witnessed space travel history being made, and fully appreciated it. I couldn't help but wonder about the future, mankind, and science. It was beautiful just to contemplate what might be possible. At that moment, I felt what everyone watching was feeling. On December 22nd, at 2.45AM CET, humanity leaped forward.