SpaceX has come close to landing a rocket but until now, never actually pulled the feat off. Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, stuck a landing last month — but Musk pointed out that was a suborbital trip, the requirements for which are considerably different.
"It's a revolutionary moment," Musk told reporters after the landing. "No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact."
Musk said he ran outside and heard the sonic boom of the returning booster just as it landed; he assumed it had exploded. He learned the happy truth when he went back into Launch Control and saw video of the standing rocket.
"I can't quite believe it," he said. "It's quite shocking." Musk said the landing appeared close to perfect and the company "could not have asked for a better mission or a better day."
Creating reusable rockets is important for lowering the cost of space travel, which could make space tourism and a trip to Mars more feasible.
The launch's payload, 11 ORBCOMM satellites destined to join others in the communications company's network, was also successfully deployed with no problems.
On June 28, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft filled with cargo for the International Space Station exploded a few minutes after lift-off.
The launch was originally scheduled for Sunday night, but was delayed because there was a 10 percent better chance of a successful landing on Monday, according to Musk.