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SpaceX rocket landing 'close, but no cigar'

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The rocket made it to the barge, but hit it too hard

SpaceX

SpaceX's attempt at landing a rocket on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean ended in failure this morning. After a successful launch, the uncrewed Falcon 9 rocket hit the drone spaceport ship (also known as a barge), but landed too hard, says SpaceX co-founder Elon Musk. The launch, which took place 4:47AM ET, was SpaceX's fifth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station — the cargo capsule, Dragon, should reach ISS on Monday morning. But the landing was the leg of the mission that was supposed to make history.

The extent of the damage sustained by the rocket wasn't immediately clear after the failed landing attempt. Musk only mentions the state of the barge, which he said "is fine." The landing was the company's first attempt at making commercial spaceflight significantly cheaper. "Reusability is the critical breakthrough needed in rocketry to take things to the next level," Musk said in October during a talk at MIT. SpaceX believed that it would be able to reuse parts of Falcon 9 in future models, which could help make crewed trips of the the ISS much more accessible — and improve SpaceX profit margins.

Today's failed attempt wasn't a big surprise. Musk has warned in the past that the landing had a 50-50 chance of working out. SpaceX even compared the feat to balancing "a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm" back in December, right before canceling the first planned attempt at landing the rocket (SpaceX aborted a second attempt on January 6th, one minute before the scheduled liftoff). Yet, even though the landing didn't end in success, the fact that the rocket hit its target is extremely encouraging. As Musk puts it, it "bodes well for the future."

Update: Musk took to Twitter later in the day to give some more context on the landing attempt.