Tuesday afternoon, in Texas, 48 hours after the successful return to Earth of its Dragon capsule with astronauts, SpaceX flew another very strange machine: a cylinder of stainless steel sheets about thirty meters high resembling a grain silo. Powered by the powerful Raptor rocket motor, it took off vertically very slowly, moved sideways, and came down to land a few dozen meters from the starting point amid a huge cloud of smoke and of dust.
The craft is hardly graceful and flew less than a minute, but it represents a very important step in the exploration program of the planet Mars that Elon Musk dreams of. “Mars is starting to get credible,” the SpaceX founder tweeted after the success. The metal cylinder is actually prototype number 5, called SN5, of SpaceX's future Starship spacecraft, under development at the Boca Chica site on the Texas coast, bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
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