Tech

Try flying the SpaceX Starship rocket with this new iOS flight simulator

X-Plane: Starship gives a sense of the challenges involved in reaching the stars.

GREGG NEWTON/AFP/Getty Images

SpaceX hopes that sometime in the not-too-distant future, its next-gen Starship rocket will transport thousands of people to Mars for the creation of a new colony. The company has recently had good results testing the reusable rocket by lifting prototypes 500 feet into the air and having them come back down for a soft landing. Still, it's expected to be 2024 before the Starship makes its first un-crewed launch into space.

In the meantime, you can gain an appreciation for the challenges involved in launching the rocket with X-Plane: Starship, a simulator game for iOS that includes a model of the Starship and is said to feature incredibly realistic physics. Be warned, however: reviews on the App Store indicate there's a steep learning curve, so it might not be for the faint of heart.

The developer of the app, Laminar Research, has also created other popular flight simulators including X-Plane 11 on Mac and PC, which has been called one of the best physics simulators on the market.

Laminar Research

Making space exciting again — SpaceX made history on November 16 when it became the first private company to successfully ferry astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA's new Commercial Crew program. The company's biggest innovation has been making its rockets reusable, which promises to tremendously lower the cost of spaceflight.

Big ambitions — SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk's ambitions go far beyond making it cheaper to send astronauts into space, however. He believes that Earth's growing population will someday max out the planet's finite resources, and that further advancing the human race will require expanding humanity's reach beyond Earth. Musk admits, however, that the first civilizations on other planets, namely Mars, won't necessarily be pleasant — at least not for the earliest inhabitants. "It's going to be tough, tough going, but it'll be pretty glorious if it works out."

Whatever you think of those ideas, it's hard to deny that Musk has reinvigorated the space industry and made it much more exciting than it was in recent years. The U.S. Coast Guard has even had to deal with an unprecedented phenomenon of onlookers hopping in boats, hoping to be near crew capsules as they touch down in the ocean.