A single-stage rocket that backers hope will be cheaper and more reliable than current space-launch vehicles roared about 150 feet into the sky Wednesday, then made a historic landing.
The entire flight lasted only about a minute as the Delta Clipper-Experimental rocket blasted off at 4:43 p.m., hovered briefly, flew about 350 feet to one side and then touched down vertically on a landing pad.
It was the first time a spacecraft ever landed vertically on Earth.
It was "really wild, sexy stuff," said Tom Williams, a spokesman for McDonnell Douglas, which developed the rocket.
"There was a lot of cheering and yelling from the program people" who worked on the project, said Williams, who watched the launch over closed-circuit television at McDonnell Douglas' headquarters in Huntington Beach, Calif.
The flight at White Sands Missile Range originally was set for Wednesday morning but had to be postponed because of rain and lightning at the launch site. The test was closed to the media.
The 42-foot-tall, bullet-shaped DC-X is a one-third scale prototype of McDonnell Douglas' proposed Delta Clipper, a single-stage rocket that would be light enough to reach orbit and return without needing expensive lower stages or boosters that get thrown away on every flight.
The rocket is designed to return intact to Earth and land upright as it eases to the ground by firing its engines to brake its descent.