There are two things you could never accuse SpaceX of being shy about: trying new things, and sharing intense footage of their failures. Last September, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared a “highlight” reel of some of the most spectacular failures the company had along its path to becoming one of the most prominent private space enterprises on the planet — if not the most. If you want to commercialize space, Musk seems to have learned, you’ve got to break a few eggs.
Despite their recent successes, space travel is still a tough job — as demonstrated by Thursday’s failed landing of a Falcon 9 booster upon its return from the International Space Station. As far as failures go, Thursday’s was a good one. The rocket performed exactly as it was intended on launch, into orbit, and upon docking with the space station. The first stage, which would have been discarded under most national and private space endeavor launches, was returning to earth after detaching from the rocket’s second stage, where it was meant to land on a floating barge to be recovered and reused in subsequent launches.
As you can see in the footage, it almost made it. It appears the rocket landed just a bit too far to the side of the barge, allowing it to topple over into the sea.
Engines stabilized rocket spin just in time, enabling an intact landing in water! Ships en route to rescue Falcon. pic.twitter.com/O3h8eCgGJ7
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 5, 2018
This mishap came during an otherwise red-letter week for SpaceX. Just two days prior, they successfully launched their twentieth rocket of the year. That figure may not sound as astonishing in this modern era of private space enterprises, but for frame of reference, just two years ago in 2016 all rockets launched from the United States totaled at 22.
If you’d like to see how that landing was supposed to go down, here’s SpaceX’s reel of their best landings:
Over the past week, SpaceX also added another notable line to their list of accomplishments, with the successful launch of 64 small satellites from a single rocket — setting a new American record by a significant margin. Unlike Thursday’s botched landing, that mission was executed using a well-worn rocket booster. The trip that saw the deployment of all those satellites was actually that booster’s third successful trip. SpaceX’s method of reusing the first stage boosters, often the most expensive portion of the rocket, promises to dramatically reduce the costs of traveling into low earth orbit.
Of course, those successes, impressive as they may be, don’t make for as entertaining a watch as a whole bunch of rockets exploding. So, for old time’s sake, here’s SpaceX’s failure highlight reel one more time:
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