Upgrade to Apple Watch Series 8? National Coffee Day Fitbit Sense 2 'Hocus Pocus 2' Review Kindle Scribe Amazon Halo Rise Tesla AI Day Best Vitamins for Flu Season
Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you

SpaceX Starship prototype takes big step toward Mars with first tiny 'hop'

It looks like a floating tin can, but the test article known as SN5 may really be providing a glimpse of the future.

Elon Musk and SpaceX took their latest step toward Mars and the stated goal of making humanity a multiplanetary species... by shooting a giant metal thermos into the Texas sky Tuesday evening. 

Now playing: Watch this: SpaceX Starship prototype takes first 'hop'

The big metal silo can fly!

GIF from NASASpaceFlight.com by Eric Mack/CNET

The company performed an almost 500-foot (150 meter) "hop" of its SN5 Starship prototype at its Boca Chica development facility at 5 p.m. PT. 

The nearly nine-story-tall test craft ignited its single Raptor engine and slowly rose into the air before gently returning to the ground and landing upright not far from where it took off.

For a moment after the engine ignited, it looked as if SN5 was struggling to get airborne, but then it rose above its own smoke, hovered and came in for a soft landing. It traveled just a tiny fraction of the more than 35 million miles Musk hopes the final Starship will traverse to take humans to Mars. 

The long-awaited low-altitude test flight comes after a handful of previous prototypes failed without ever leaving the ground, mostly during pressurization tests. 

SN5 is designed to be able to perform an orbital flight, but before pushing toward space, it first had to complete this comparatively tiny hop.

The roughly 98-foot-tall (30 meter) vehicle is a stripped-down version of what the final Starship spacecraft will look like, without the nose cone or fins. It's 30 feet wide, and it's basically a fuel tank and a single Raptor engine topped with a weight that simulates a payload. The resulting shape is something like a thermos many will recognize.

Musk tweeted this footage of the launch late Tuesday:

It's been a big August for SpaceX already, with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft returning NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from the International Space Station and splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend. 

"Mars is looking real," Musk tweeted after the hop.

Crazy to think that interplanetary travel might begin with this brief and bizarre-looking flight. Can't wait to see the next big step on this long journey.