by Jeff Cunningham
This morning, shortly before 5am, SpaceX finally launched a Falcon 9 rocket (after a few scrubbed attempts) carrying an unmanned Dragon on its fifth official resupply mission to the International Space Station (CRS-5). The Falcon 9 lit up the early morning sky, and was visible to a large part of the East Coast before it separated from the rest of the craft and began its controlled descent back to Earth, making an historic, albeit “interesting,” landing on a drone-piloted barge in the Atlantic Ocean.
Viewers around the world (including this East Coast writer, who set his alarm to wake him in time for spacex.com‘s 4:30am live web coverage and watched the 4:47am launch still clad in his pajamas) watched online as the Falcon 9 broke atmo and the Dragon capsule achieved Low Earth Orbit and deployed her solar arrays. Dragon will now rendezvous with the ISS at 6:12am on Monday, January 12.
Overall the launch was a huge success. As for SpaceX’s first attempt to recover a Falcon 9 booster rocket on their specially designed ocean-going barge… not so much. Or at least that’s the word from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk via Twitter early this morning, who said in a series of tweets, “Ascent phase good. Dragon deployed to Space Station rendezvous orbit. Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho. (sic) Ship itself is fine. Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced… Didn’t get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and… actual pieces.”
If we read between the lines (and the humor reminiscent of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark), there are some very positive things to be gleaned here. First of all, the Falcon 9 did accurately return to the automated barge, so it can be said that SpaceX pulled off a maneuver that, in the words of Zoe Washburne in Firefly, is “… like throwing a dart… and hitting a bullseye six thousand miles away.” Secondly, the “ship itself is fine.” That means that the goal of landing a rocket booster intact so that it can be reused at a time in the very near future is pretty gorram close to being achieved. And that, amazing as it is, still isn’t good enough to be declared anything more than “close, but no cigar” by Elon Musk, even though to most of us it would be the most incredible feat of multi-tasking we’d ever achieved in our lives! Yes, SpaceX has very high standards, which no doubt accounts for their outstanding track record and superb success rate. It’s why we here at Take Back the Sky say, “In Musk we trust,” and it’s why we believe it should be a manned Dragon that bears the name Serenity.
If you share that belief, now would be a good time to celebrate the successful completion of SpaceX’s historic launch by sending Elon Musk a congratulatory letter with the suggestion that his first manned Dragon be christened Serenity. And while you’re at it, you can sign our online petition, and tell a friend (or several) to do the same.
Congratulations, SpaceX, on another successful launch and a remarkable step towards rocket reusability. We, along with the rest of the world, can’t wait to see what’s next.