Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket from New Zealand at 9:20 p.m. EST Thursday (0220 GMT Friday) carrying 30 small payloads into low Earth orbit. The company said the first stage of the Electron rocket splashed down in the Pacific Ocean under a parachute, a major step in Rocket Lab’s rocket reuse program.
If all goes according to plan, engineers in southern Mississippi later this month will load cryogenic propellants into the core stage of a rocket NASA says will launch astronauts back to the moon, exposing its tankage and internal plumbing to extreme operating conditions hundreds of degrees below zero for the first time. The fueling test — a major milestone in its own right — is a precursor to a high-stakes eight-minute test-firing of the Space Launch System’s four shuttle-era main engines planned as soon as November.
Christopher Ferguson, commander of the final space shuttle flight and now a Boeing executive, has stepped down as commander of the first piloted test flight of the company’s troubled CST-100 Starliner commercial spacecraft, he and Boeing announced Wednesday. He has been replaced by NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore.