SpaceX completed a vertical landing of its Falcon 9 rocket on December 21, the first time such a feat had been achieved.

The launch and landing in Cape Canaveral, Florida, were the first from the spaceflight company since its rocket exploded on liftoff in June.

"Welcome back, baby!" SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted after touchdown. (Watch a video of the landing as seen from a helicopter.)

SpaceX had not previously attempted to land a rocket on land, and it marked the firm's first successful attempt to recover a rocket from an orbital flight. Previous attempts, all unsuccessful, were attempted on floating landing pads.

(Read "SpaceX Innovates as It Aims for Mars.")

The 15-story first stage of rocket — used to propel the payload to 62 miles until the second stage takes over — landed on Earth again at a prepared landing zone.

SpaceX has come close to landing a rocket but until now, never succeeded. Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, landed a craft in November — but Musk says that was a suborbital trip whose requirements were different.

News reports quoted Musk as saying that he ran outside and heard a boom of the returning booster as it landed; he assumed it had exploded.

Creating reusable rockets is important for lowering the cost of space travel. The launch's payload, 11 ORBCOMM satellites destined to join others in the communications company's network, was successfully deployed.

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 ORBCOMM launch was originally scheduled for December 20, but was delayed because there was a slightly better chance of a successful landing the launch vehicle on December 21, according to Musk.

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