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SpaceX Hops Closer To Moon And Mars Missions

SpaceX launched a prototype of its Starship vehicle in Boca Chica, Texas. Photo: SpaceX / Twitter
SpaceX launched a prototype of its Starship vehicle in Boca Chica, Texas. Photo: SpaceX / Twitter

A test flight in Boca Chica, Texas might be a small hop for SpaceX's prototype rocket but it's a giant leap in the company's ambitions towards launching vehicles to the moon and Mars.

It was the first flight of SpaceX's full-size prototype of its Starship spacecraft. Founder Elon Musk is leading his team of engineers designing the vehicle, with the ultimate goal of using the spacecraft to send humans to Mars.

"Mars is looking real," tweeted Elon shortly after the test.

The prototype flew Tuesday to under 500 feet for about 40 seconds before landing at a nearby landing pad. The stainless steel vehicle was propelled by SpaceX's next-generation Merlin engine. Musk said the final iteration of Starship will use 6 of these engines and aims to carry up to 100 people.

A smaller prototype called Starhopper completed a similar test launch last year. Musk said the team will do several more short hops before moving on to higher-altitude tests.

Starship will get a big boost into space using a larger rocket booster called Super Heavy. Musk said SpaceX is still deciding on a launch site for those launches, which could include Kennedy Space Center or SpaceX's manufacturing and test facility in South Texas.

While Starship is part of Musk's Mars ambitions, NASA is interested in its development for landing humans on the moon. The agencyawarded SpaceX a developmental contract to design Starship to land NASA astronauts on the moon.

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.