Falcon 9 first stage recovery remarkably close to success

The Falcon 9 rocket from the private SpaceX corporation recently delivered another Dragon capsule full of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station. But this time SpaceX tried something new: a very preliminary test of a system intended to permit the eventual recovery of the rocket’s first stage so that it can be refurbished and reused, something that would save a lot of money.

SpaceX said well in advance that the attempt probably wouldn’t succeed on the first try, but it came remarkably close: The first stage, steering itself, managed to find the target recovery barge and even touch down on its deck, but the steering fins ran out of hydraulic fluid, and the rocket came down hard at an angle and crashed — rather spectacularly in fact. If you want to hear the accompanying sound effects, click on the speaker icon at the bottom of the video to unmute, but you might want to turn your volume down for your first viewing.

As Phil Plait writes on his Bad Astronomy blog (link), it’s very misleading to call this a “failure,” and it’s great that SpaceX founder Elon Musk has a sense of humor about it, sending the following Tweets

@ID_AA_Carmack Full RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly) event. Ship is fine minor repairs. Exciting day! pic.twitter.com/tIEctHFKHG

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2015

Next rocket landing on drone ship in 2 to 3 weeks w way more hydraulic fluid. At least it shd explode for a diff reason.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2015

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