A rocket ship which Elon Musk hopes could one day send people to Mars has completed a successful test flight.
Starship, the latest upgraded version of SpaceX’s full-scale rocket ship, soared more than six miles over the Gulf of Mexico before descending for a smooth touchdown.
The successful flight follows four previous tests that ended in fiery explosions either before, during or after touchdown at the southeastern tip of Texas.
A fire at the base of the 50m rocket was quickly extinguished and the spacecraft remained standing after the six-minute flight, with Musk tweeting: “Starship landing nominal!”
The flight came on the 60th anniversary of the first spaceflight by an American astronaut – Alan Shepard’s launch on a 15-minute suborbital mission atop Nasa’s Mercury-Redstone rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Less than a month ago, Nasa chose SpaceX’s Starship to deliver astronauts to the surface of the moon in the next few years.
The $3bn (£2.15bn) contract was halted last week, however, after the losing companies – Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Dynetics – protested the selection.
Musk said last month that the Nasa money would help development of Starship, which is meant to eventually launch atop a Super Heavy booster.
He has often spoken of his hopes that the spacecraft will eventually be able to take people to Mars and in 2016 set out his hopes for building a city of carbon fibre and glass domes for humans to live in on the planet’s surface.
However, experts have previously cautioned that the practicalities of getting people to Mars – let alone living there – would prove immensely challenging.
“Thinking of Mars as a kind of Earth in waiting is wrong, and likely to get one killed,”
David Whitehouse, author of Space 2069: After Apollo: The Moon, Mars and Beyond, said previously.
“Mars is Mars, its features are Martian, forever its own.”
The complete Starship rocket, which will stand 394ft (120m) tall when mated with its super-heavy first-stage booster.
A first orbital Starship flight is planned for year’s end. Musk has said he intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon with the Starship in 2023