2017-03-31 14:05:58

Despite the early hour, Chinese enthusiasts of all things space-related on Friday closely followed American aerospace company SpaceX’s latest rocket launch. For the first time, the company reused a booster rocket that had previously flown to space and back.

Zhao Yang, a 37-year-old self-described fan of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, told Sixth Tone that he was moved to tears while watching the launch video. “What he did in real life has gone beyond our imagination,” the resident of Qingdao, in eastern China’s Shandong province, said of Musk.

Yu Jun, lead writer at science and technology website Guokr, told Sixth Tone he woke up at 6 a.m. to watch the launch and landing of the rocket live. Yu said that China is in the early stages of researching reusable rockets. “Musk’s success shows that this way works,” he said.

Other reactions celebrated the fact that a private company had achieved such a feat. “[Musk] did it!” wrote a user on microblog platform Weibo. “The efficiency of state-owned enterprises cannot compete with that of private companies.” Another commenter had a point of critique about the online live stream, however: “Shit, I used my data and waited for so long only for screen to suddenly go black at the most important moment, the landing. Poor show!!!”

Reusable rockets can lower the cost of releasing satellites into orbit, and even of one day sending humans to Mars. Whereas the company’s online fans celebrated this successful next step in making space travel more affordable, many netizens compared the money-saving move to developments on the home front: skyrocketing real estate prices.

“If you don’t compare, you won’t feel pain,” a Weibo user wrote, using a popular online expression. “Look at our news: In Nanjing [capital of eastern China’s Jiangsu province], a land auction sold at the highest price [ever]! And a thousand people eating hot pot set a Guinness World Record!”

“Even though recycling trash is not as profitable as our real estate industry, the progress of human beings depends on these people of learning, after all,” a Weibo user from Beijing wrote, referring to the reused rocket as a product of recyling. “I hope Musk won’t switch to real estate.”

Housing prices in China’s biggest cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, have recently shot up to astronomical levels. In March, municipal governments across the country introduced measures to curb prices and deter speculators.

Guokr writer Yu said he had noticed many Chinese net users responding to the news. “I think the mainstream voice is saying, ‘This is great!’” he said. “People think it’s more worthwhile to invest money in technology than to speculate on housing.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, March 30, 2017. Bruce Weaver/VCG)