First, Elon Musk's SpaceX disrupted the aerospace industry with rockets that were designed to be reused. Now the company is turning heads with its Internet live-streams.
SpaceX's live launch webcasts from the company's Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., are becoming must-watch events for space nerds and common folk alike. The events are an equally informative and entertaining crash course in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) topics with a heavy dose of rocket propulsion and flip maneuvers thrown in.
Each time the company launches a rocket, young SpaceX employees and engineers—including a lot of women—take turns as enthusiastic, funny hosts. Not sure what a faring is? Curious about the white smoke that's "totally normal"? Need to bone up on the difference between low-earth and geostationary orbits? They've got you.
The highly produced webcasts began in late December with the Orbcomm-2 mission when SpaceX launched Falcon 9 and successfully landed the rocket's first stage—on land—for the first time. The 45-minute webcast featured a mix of preproduced segments, slick graphic design, and live shots. There was even a cameo appearance by Wait But Why's Tim Urban.
The palpable excitement emanating from within SpaceX is part of what makes the webcasts so engaging for so many people. In April, when Falcon 9 nailed its first droneship landing, the webcast hosts could barely contain their enthusiasm. Kate Tice, a process improvement engineer wearing an "Occupy Mars" T-shirt, was so elated that she told roughly 80,000 viewers "My face hurts so much right now, I can't believe it." The 36-minute webcast that included the first droneship landing has been viewed 1.53 million times on YouTube. A separate clip featuring a 360-degree view of that same landing has garnered more than 1.9 million views.
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 to "revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets." Part of that effort involves capturing the public's imagination and educating a new generation about what it will take to get there.
"Becoming a multi-planet species is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity, " said SpaceX spokesman Dex Torricke-Barton in an e-mail. "Educating and engaging more people about space will help us to make faster progress, and each launch is an opportunity to do that."
On Thursday, SpaceX is scheduled to ferry Thaicom 8, a communications satellite, to geostationary orbit and attempt another droneship landing. If all goes as planned (which is never a given in this business), Falcon 9 should lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at approximately 5:40 p.m. EST on Thursday. The best way to find out is to check out the live-stream here: