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Jason DavisJanuary 16, 2015

Watch the Incredible 'Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly' of SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket

Last Saturday, SpaceX made an ambitious attempt to land the spent core stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on an autonomous drone ship landing pad in the Atlantic Ocean. CEO Elon Musk placed the odds of success at just 50 percent, later clarifying that the 50-50 estimate was just a guess. The experimental landing effort occurred during the company's fifth paid Dragon spacecraft cargo run to the International Space Station. Dragon arrived safely at the station on Monday morning.

Following first stage separation, the Falcon 9 used a series of engine burns to adjust its course for landing. While the rocket made it to the landing pad, the grid fins used to control its descent ran out of hydraulic fluid. The stage lost control and crashed. All in all, it was an impressive feat, and SpaceX intends to try again until they stick the landing.

SpaceX released this Vine video of the landing this morning:

Late last night, Musk tweeted four images of the rocket impacting the landing pad, taken by a camera aboard the drone ship. Here is a video combining all four frames:

SpaceX / Elon Musk via Twitter / Animation by Jason Davis

Falcon 9 Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly
This animation was created using four photos of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket impacting its autonomous drone ship spaceport. The photos have been cropped and edited for color matching.

And here's the above video in a lower-resolution animated GIF:

Falcon 9 impacts the drone ship

SpaceX / Elon Musk via Twitter / Animation by Jason Davis

Falcon 9 impacts the drone ship

Musk called the event a "rapid unscheduled disassembly," a possible tongue-in-cheek reference to NASA and other rocket providers' penchant for using obtuse terminology to describe rocket disasters.

Here are all four of Musk's tweets, along with an explanation of each frame. 

@ID_AA_Carmack Before impact, fins lose power and go hardover. Engines fights to restore, but … pic.twitter.com/94VDi7IEHS

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2015

@ID_AA_Carmack Rocket hits hard at ~45 deg angle, smashing legs and engine section pic.twitter.com/PnzHHluJfG

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2015

@ID_AA_Carmack Residual fuel and oxygen combine pic.twitter.com/5k07SP8M9n

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2015

@ID_AA_Carmack Full RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly) event. Ship is fine minor repairs. Exciting day! pic.twitter.com/tIEctHFKHG

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2015

Read more: commercial spaceflight, future technology, rockets

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Jason Davis

Journalist and Digital Editor for The Planetary Society
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