If anyone can make failure look like a magnificent achievement in rocket design, launch, and recovery, then it’s definitely Elon Musk. On Saturday, SpaceX launched a Dragon capsule into space via its Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The Dragon went on to make its fifth successful cargo run to the International Space Station, while the Falcon 9 was scheduled to make history by landing vertically on a 300 ft. by 100 ft. target under power… at sea… in the dark.
SpaceX was nearly able to successfully accomplish its mission with Dragon 9, but Musk tweeted Saturday morning:
Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 10, 2015
You have to really appreciate what SpaceX was able to accomplish here. The company’s team of engineers was able to launch a rocket towards space at hypersonic speeds, then control the descent back to Earth by using its grid fins and the rocket’s main engine. It just boggles the mind that SpaceX was able to get anywhere close to its floating barge target, let alone actually touch it. However, what would have been a resounding success was kneecapped by the loss of too much hydraulic fluid, which caused the rocket to tip out of control at a 45-degree angle as it approached the barge and burst into flames.
SpaceX has already tackled the what appears to be 95 percent of what it takes to make a successful landing; it will go that extra 5 percent in a future mission by adding in 50 percent more hydraulic fluid to ensure that the grid fins are able to control the Falcon 9 all the way until touchdown.
With all of this in mind, Musk finally took to Twitter this morning to post a series of four images showing the Falcon 9’s final few seconds of life. It shows the rocket making its final approach before tipping on its side, striking the platform, than bursting into flames. Musk tweeted the images to non other than Id co-founder and legendary game programmer John Carmack, who also just so happens to be a rocket nut.
If SpaceX can make rapidly reusable rockets a possibility — and we have no doubt that the company can — it would cut the cost of launching people and equipment into space by half. And if we can make it cheaper to travel to and from space, the possibilities are endless for human space travel.