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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press The first stage booster from a Falcon 9 rocket experiences a control problem, landing in the Atlantic Ocean just east of the launch site instead of a landing zone in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Wednesday.

Thursday, December 06, 2018 1:00 am

Rocket heads to ISS; booster misses mark

Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Christmas turkey rocketed toward the International Space Station on Wednesday, along with cranberry sauce, candied yams and the obligatory fruitcake.

The SpaceX booster missed its landing zone on the ground after liftoff, however, and ended up in the sea just a couple of miles offshore.

Groans filled SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, as live video showed the first-stage rocket booster spinning out of control, still high above Cape Canaveral. It was the company's first missed ground landing, although it has overshot floating barges plenty of times in the past, a tougher feat to pull off.

A SpaceX commentator called it a “bummer” but noted it was secondary to the Falcon 9 rocket's main mission of getting the Dragon capsule to orbit.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk said the booster appeared to be undamaged. The hydraulic pump for the landing fins apparently stalled, but the engines stabilized the roughly 160-foot-tall booster just in time, allowing for “an intact landing in water!” Musk noted via Twitter. “Ships en route to rescue Falcon,” he tweeted.

Altogether, the company has recovered 32 boosters following liftoff – 33 once this one is towed back, said Hans Koenigsmann, a SpaceX vice president.

Koenigsmann said the booster deliberately avoided land after sensing a problem, a built-in safety feature.

The disappointment was offset by the successful flight of the Dragon capsule and its 5,600 pounds of cargo. Besides smoked turkey breast and all the other fixings for Christmas dinner, the delivery includes 40 mice and 36,000 worms for aging and muscle studies.

The launch was delayed a day when NASA discovered that the food for the mouse-tronauts was moldy. More food had to be rushed in.