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SpaceX engineers and on-board software maneuvered the first stage of a Falcon 9 launch vehicle back to a steady, tail-down landing at Cape Canaveral Monday, 10 min. after returning the kerosene-fueled rocket to flight following an ascent explosion on a mission to the International Space Station in June.

Success in recovering the stage, after two unsuccessful attempts to land on a barge in the Atlantic, marks a major step toward the long-sought dream of reusable commercial space launchers. While Blue Origin brought its liquid-hydrogen/liquid oxygen New Shepard vehicle back from a suborbital launch to space on Nov. 23, Monday’s SpaceX recovery was the first known landing for an unmanned orbital launcher.

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