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SpaceX Rocket Successfully Lands After Launching Satellites

A handout picture made available by SpaceX shows a Falcon 9 rocket landing upright at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. SpaceX successfully returned a rocket to Earth following Monday's satellite launch after two earlier attempts failed.

Commercial spaceflight company SpaceX accomplished launching a rocket with a group of communications satellites into orbit.

It was the landing, however, that received most of the attention and made history.

The Falcon 9 rocket, which lifted off Monday evening in Florida, was carrying 11 small satellites for communications company Orbcomm.

NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports: The real excitement came around 10 minutes after launch. The rocket's massive first stage executed a series of maneuvers that brought it back to Cape Canaveral in Florida. Then, it fired its engines and gently landed right on target.

It was the first time an unmanned rocket returned to land vertically at Cape Canaveral, The Associated Press reports. The leftover booster is 15 stories tall.

Previous attempts at a landing had been on an ocean platform.

SpaceX employees were ecstactic — jumping up and down and cheering

"Welcome back, baby!" CEO Elon Musk tweeted after the rocket touched down. The billionaire entrepreneur, who also runs the Tesla electric car company, was in Florida for the mission.

It's the first successful launch since a rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded in June, and the first recovery of a spent booster for SpaceX. Previous attempts were close but ended in failure.

Speaking to reporters after the launch, Musk said, "This is a fundamental step change in technology compared to any rockets that have ever flown."

"SpaceX hopes it can recycle the first stage and use it again on future space flights. If it can, then the company says it can dramatically lower the cost of space travel," Brumfiel reports.

Brendan Byrne of member station WMFE in Orlando reports that SpaceX plans to resume supply missions to the International Space Station as early as February.

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