SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket that successfully put a Dragon cargo capsule in orbit on Saturday, but its unprecedented attempt to land the un-crewed rocket's first stage at sea ended with a crash.
The primary goal of the launch was to send more than 5,000 pounds (2,300 kilograms) of supplies, equipment and experiments to the International Space Station aboard the Dragon. That part of the mission unfolded flawlessly.
After the Dragon and the Falcon's second stage separated and went on their way, the 14-story-tall first stage was programmed to try flying itself back to an "autonomous spaceport drone ship" sitting about 200 miles off Florida's Atlantic coast. SpaceX's billionaire founder, Elon Musk, said in a Twitter update that the stage "made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard."
"Close, but no cigar this time," he said.
Such a maneuver had never been tried before — and if the procedure becomes routine, it could mark a giant leap toward rocket reusability and low-cost spaceflight. Musk has said making rockets fully reusable could reduce the cost of getting to orbit to 1% of what it is today. That would hasten Musk's dream of creating colonies on Mars and making humanity a "multiplanet species."
The Falcon 9 rose into a dark sky at 4:47 a.m. ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It almost blasted off on Tuesday — but a problem with an engine-steering actuator on the rocket's second stage forced a last-minute scrub. SpaceX replaced the balky part, and Saturday's countdown went smoothly.