Friday night, SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket from Southern California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. The successful mission carried 10 Iridium Next communications satellites into orbit. Though, many people out and about in LA on Friday night didn't necessarily have the potential of these satellites in mind as they watched the breathtaking launch over the city.
Many were aware of the launch and were eager to watch, dazzled by the unique light show that the rocket put on. But others who hadn't been expecting it took to Twitter, thinking the strange display was a UFO. Some were excited by this prospect, while others were legitimately terrified.
— Amanda (@alias_amanda) December 23, 2017
Shaky iPhone footage of a rocket launch with the title "UFO" isn't exactly an uncommon phenomenon, but the Falcon 9 launch did come in the wake of the New York Times story detailing a top-secret Pentagon program dedicated to investigating UFOs. The story garnered a great deal of public interest and certainly has a lot of people taking a little longer look at the night sky, wondering if aliens really could be out there.
According to the NYT, the now defunded program used $22 million of the national defense budget between 2007 and 2012, and while the story outlined the spending, it did not explicitly say the program had confirmed the existence of extraterrestrials.
While it may not be a UFO, SpaceX's two-stage rocket is a vital part of the growing aerospace industry. It's the first orbital class rocket that's capable of being re-used. The continued exploration and adoption of reusable rockets drive down the environmental burden, waste, and cost of typical rocket launches. So, as the Falcon 9 delivers crucial satellites into orbit, it also propels the future of spaceflight and exploration forward.