Why SpaceX Rocket Landing Is a Giant Leap for Space Travel

Elon Musk's team successfully recycled a rocket.

ByABC News
December 22, 2015, 10:15 AM

— -- Elon Musk and his SpaceX team have edged closer to making space travel more affordable after successfully launching and returning a rocket to Earth.

Musk has said the ability to reuse a rocket -- which dramatically reduces launch cost -- is something that will help revolutionize commercial space travel.

"I think this is a critical step along the way towards being able to establish a city on Mars," Musk said on a call with reporters Monday night after the Falcon 9 successfully landed upright on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The company has previously attempted the feat three times, coming close to landing on a bull's-eye on a floating barge. The landing Monday night was the first time SpaceX tried to return the Falcon 9 to a target on land. It was also the first time a rocket successfully launched a payload into space and returned to Earth intact.

Musk has previously said he believes reusing rockets -- which cost as much as a commercial airplane -- could reduce the cost of access to space by a factor of one hundred.

While many other rockets burn up on re-entry, SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 to be able to withstand the heat and land vertically so the rocket can be used again on a future launch.

Aside from the return on land, this launch was also different since it used an upgraded Falcon 9 that stands slightly taller than predecessors at 229.6 feet and has more thrust.

The landing is a huge victory for Musk and his team, who were sidelined after the explosion of the Falcon 9 rocket in June as it carried the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

Last month, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin successfully launched a rocket to a test altitude of 329,839 feet and then landed it near the launch pad in Texas.

ABC News' Erin Dooley contributed to this report.