Standing up for Space X: Defending what some are calling a “Failure”
On Sunday, January 17th, Space X attempted the historic landing of their reusable Falcon 9 rocket on a remote controlled barge in the middle of the ocean. I took the opportunity to completely nerd out and watched the whole launch feed live as it happened, and I thought the entire process was fascinating. During the live feed, just as the rocket was coming in, the video feed from the barge froze so I didn’t get to see the landing attempt live. The initial reports Sunday were that the rocket had a “rough landing” and that there “might have been damage.”
Buy an “Intelligence is sexy” t-shirt!
Well, as well know now, the “rough landing” actually resulted in the rocket toppling over and exploding. Although the rocket made touchdown on the barge, one of it’s landing legs didn’t lock into place correctly and it fell. Back in December of 2015 Space X successfully landed one of their Falcon Rockets on a launch pad, which was amazing in and of itself. Having the ability to reuse the first stage of these rockets will cut the cost of space missions drastically, and the ability to land them on a remote barge makes them even more efficient. This was Space X’s third attempt to land on a barge and is the next big step for them.
I guess what really bothered me about the news reports that came out Monday, as the fate of the rocket was revealed, was the use of the word “failure”. We are talking about a roughly 200-foot tall rocket that just went to outer space, turned around, and then landed on a target the size of a football field that is spinning and tipping in the ocean. That’s AMAZING. Yes, the rocket fell over and blew up, but technically they still landed it. Space X founder and CEO, Elon Musk, even said “Definitely harder to land on a ship. Similar to an aircraft carrier vs land: much smaller target area, that’s also translating & rotating.” That’s an understatement if I’ve ever heard one.
The whole situation brought to mind the scientist who was a team leader for the group that landed the Philae rover on a moving comet, but was destroyed by the media for the shirt he wore on the day of the landing. Seriously? We shot a rocket 6.4 BILLION kilometers into space on a trip that took 10 years, successfully landed a robot on a moving comet, and all people cared about was the guys shirt? As far as I am concerned the guy could have been naked. The same goes for the Space X landing Sunday, people only focus on the fate of the rocket, and not the scale of the accomplishment.
Maybe it’s just me? Maybe I am a “there is always a silver lining” kind of guy? The truth is that was Space X accomplished Sunday was a major advancement in space travel. To call it a “failure” is suggesting that nothing was accomplished, and that is simply not the case. Musk, who is a notorious perfectionist was even able to maintain a good attitude about it when he tweeted, “Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time! Won’t be last RUD, but am optimistic about upcoming ship landing.” I, for one, am excited to see them moving forward, and about what Space X will accomplish in 2016.
Read: SpaceX to Attempt ANOTHER History-Making Landing
Just so you can see what I am talking about, here is the video that Elon Musk himself posted to Instagram of the rocket’s landing, and the ensuing fall and explosion.