The barge landing of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket failed this morning, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeting that the "rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time." The rocket blasted off this morning at 04:47AM ET and safely jettisoned its Dragon module, laden with supplies for the International Space Station.
"Like balancing a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm."
If everything had gone to plan, however, SpaceX wouldn't be celebrating the launch, but landing. After Falcon 9 jettisoned its cargo capsule, the rocket itself headed back to Earth. SpaceX attempted to land it on a barge out at sea, about 200 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida, but the historic attempt to safely land a rocket for the first time proved too difficult: the rocket made it to the ship, but hit it too hard. The rocket was 70 feet wide and 14 stories tall, whereas the barge — a barge that Elon Musk likes to call an "autonomous spaceport drone ship" — is a target just 300 feet across and 100 feet wide. SpaceX gave their chances of success as 50-50, and compared the feat to balancing "a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm."
A successful landing would have been an important step toward cheaper spaceflight. Being able to conserve a rocket and reuse it in future missions would help SpaceX save millions over the long term. As SpaceX co-founder Elon Musk said in October during a talk at MIT, "reusability is the critical breakthrough needed in rocketry to take things to the next level." However, Musk noted that although the landing failed, the barge itself was "fine," and that even an accurate crash landing bodes well for future attempts.
UPDATE 05:09AM ET: This article was updated with the news of the Falcon 9's failed barge landing.