A commercial Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon cargo ship toward the International Space Station early Saturday (Jan. 10) — and then returned to Earth, apparently impacting its target ocean platform during a highly anticipated landing test in the Atlantic. The result: "Close, but no cigar, " according to SpaceX chief Elon Musk.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched into space at 4:47 a.m. EST (0947 GMT) Saturday from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, kicking off SpaceX's fifth unmanned cargo mission to the orbiting lab for NASA after a four-day delay. The liftoff was originally scheduled for Tuesday (Jan. 6), but was pushed back because of an issue with an actuator on the rocket's second stage.
Not all of the action Saturday was in the upward direction: The company also aimed to bring the Falcon 9's first stage down for a precision landing on an "autonomous spaceport drone ship" in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket stage hit its target, but a bit too hard. [SpaceX's Reusable Rocket Landing Test Explained (Infographic)]
"Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho, " Musk tweeted shortly after the launch.
"Ship itself is fine. Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced..." he added. "Didn't get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and ... actual pieces."
SpaceX's fifth Dragon cargo ship for NASA separates from its Falcon 9 rocket after successfully launching into orbit on Jan. 10, 2014. The spacecraft will arrive at the International Space Station with supplies on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015.
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