SpaceX's mega rocket makes its fourth test flight from Texas

SpaceX's mega Starship rocket launched from Texas on Thursday, the fourth test flight for the spacecraft that NASA and Elon Musk are counting on to take humanity to the moon and Mars.

The world's largest and most powerful rocket – nearly 400 feet (121 meters) high – was empty as it hovered over the Gulf of Mexico and flew east. The spacecraft on top was aiming for a half-circle around the planet with a landing in the Indian Ocean after dumping the first stage booster into the gulf.

This time, SpaceX tried to prevent explosions by controlling the descents. SpaceX came close in March, but lost contact with the spacecraft when it shot out of orbit and exploded just short of its target. The booster also ruptured in flight, a quarter mile above the wave.

The two test flights from last year ended in explosions shortly after blasting off from the southern tip of Texas, near the Mexican border. The first cratered Boca Chica beach and hurled debris thousands of feet away.

SpaceX upgraded the software and made some rocket flyback changes to improve its chances. The Federal Aviation Administration signed off on this fourth demo on Tuesday, saying all safety requirements had been met.

Starship is designed to be completely reusable. That's why SpaceX wants to control the booster's entry into the Gulf and the spacecraft's descent into the Indian Ocean – it's intended as a practice for planned future landings. Nothing is found from Thursday's flight.

NASA has ordered a few spaceships for it two moon landing missions by astronauts, available for later this decade. Each lunar crew will rely on NASA's own rocket and capsule to leave Earth, but meet Starship in lunar orbit for the ride to the surface.

SpaceX already sells tourist trips around the moon. The first private lunar customera Japanese tycoon, withdrew from the trip with his entourage last week, citing the oft-delayed schedule.

The founder and CEO of SpaceX has bigger plans: Musk envisions fleets of human-launching spaceships and the infrastructure needed to build a city on Mars.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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