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SpaceX's Starship achieves historic ocean landing

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SpaceX's massive Starship rocket successfully completed its first splashdown during a test flight on Thursday, marking a significant milestone for the system designed to eventually transport humans to Mars.

Dramatic onboard footage showed sparks and debris as the spaceship descended into the Indian Ocean northwest of Australia. Despite these challenges, it survived atmospheric re-entry, achieving its primary objective.

"Despite the loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean!" tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. "Congratulations SpaceX team on an epic achievement!!"

The powerful rocket launched from SpaceX’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, at 7:50 am (1250 GMT), entering orbit and traveling halfway across the globe in about an hour and five minutes.

Starship is key to Musk’s vision of making humanity an interplanetary species, with NASA planning to use a modified version for the Artemis program to land astronauts on the Moon later this decade.

Previous landing attempts ended in fiery explosions, which SpaceX views as part of its rapid development process. "The payload for these flight tests is data," SpaceX reiterated on social media.

Thursday’s flight also saw the first successful soft splashdown of the Super Heavy booster in the Gulf of Mexico, met with applause from engineers at mission control in Hawthorne, California.

"Congratulations SpaceX on Starship's successful test flight this morning!" NASA chief Bill Nelson wrote on social media. "We are another step closer to returning humanity to the Moon through #Artemis - then looking onward to Mars."

Designed to be fully reusable, Starship stands 397 feet (121 meters) tall. Its Super Heavy booster produces 16.7 million pounds of thrust, about twice as powerful as the Saturn V rockets used during the Apollo missions.

However, SpaceX faces a tight timeline to be ready for NASA's planned return to the Moon in 2026. They must first place a primary Starship in orbit and then use multiple "Starship tankers" to refuel it for the journey – a complex feat yet to be achieved.

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