Meaghan Kirby
Updated Dec 22, 2017 @ 9:23 pm
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Earlier this evening, residents all over Southern California were treated to a spectacular light show as SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket into the sky. While stunning, the event left many Southern Californians confused — and thinking that they were actually spotting a UFO flying around.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), it seems no aliens were involved in this evening’s SpaceX launch, which saw the Falcon 9 rocket sent into Earth’s low-orbit with 10 Iridium NEXT satellites. But with the exception of the company’s very famous founder, Elon Musk — and his plan to send people to Mars — the company isn’t as widely known as the entrepreneur’s other famous venture, Tesla.

So, what is SpaceX?

SpaceX is an aerospace manufacturing company founded by Musk in 2002. The company hopes to advance existing space technology with a goal of developing the technology to allow people to live on Mars, and potentially other planets. While the company is currently working on numerous technologies that would make interplanetary travel — and potential settlement on Mars — a reality, SpaceX has contracts with numerous government (like NASA and the U.S. Military) and commercial organizations to develop and use its technologies and crafts. Additionally, Musk and SpaceX have been developing and testing reusable orbital launch system that would allow for launch systems — like rockets — to be reused over and over again.

What was the objective of tonight’s launch?

One of SpaceX’s major commercial contracts is with Iridium Satellite Communications, launching its NEXT satellites into Low-Orbit to provide data and mobile services all over the world. The Falcon 9 launched earlier this evening was carrying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites, which would replace a current set of older satellites.

Is SpaceX really developing technology that would send people to Mars?

In short, yes! While Musk has a personal goal is to create technology allowing for human exploration and potential permanent settlement on Mars, the majority of SpaceX’s Mars-related plans revolve around actually transporting people to the planet. In 2016, Musk unveiled plans for an Interplanetary Transport System program that would explore technology that would allow for interplanetary travel, which could serve as a precursor to developing the technology allowing sustainable settlements on the Mars. He also told The New York Times that he’s hoping to send the first people to Mars in 2024.

While today, SpaceX is known for tricking thousands of people into thinking they’d seen a UFO, soon, it’ll probably be taking us to Mars in the very near future.