"Close but no cigar," was how SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk described it.
SpaceX sent cargo to the International Space Station as part of its contract with NASA, and that part of the mission went exactly as planned. However, Musk also used the launch as the first big test of his dream to create a reusable rocket.
"Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship," he tweeted, "but landed hard."
After examining retrieved pieces of the rocket, Musk said the problem may have stemmed from its running out of hydraulic fluid just before landing: "Upcoming flight already has 50% more hydraulic fluid, so should have plenty of margin for landing attempt next month."
It's possible the next attempt could be later this month. SpaceX is slated to launch the DSCOVER satellite for NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to measure climate change, and the Air Force has said the date could be as early as Jan. 29. There's also another cargo mission to the space station that could happen in February.
A reusable rocket would dramatically reduce the cost of launches, and no one is pursuing the concept more than Musk, who can count among his other ventures the electric carmaker Tesla Motors.