back to article SpaceX releases Pythonesque video of rocket failures

Elon Musk is succeeding in his ambition to make space launches boringly reliable, but it still understands that people like to watch things blowing up. To that end, SpaceX has released a video entitled "How Not to Land an Orbital Rocket Booster," showing footage of all the times its rockets didn't quite make the grade. …

  1. Richard Jukes

    Must have taken determination and deep pockets to keep on sending up the rockets until they had worked it out. I feel lucky that I have seen this and I feel lucky that I will see how this develops. It truly is a new era.

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      On articles such as these it's customary for someone to link to this book - "Ignition! - An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants" by John D Clark (

      The pair of photographs on the first couple of pages kind of set the tone for the book - and the entire field. "This is what a test firing should look like. Note the mach diamonds in the exhaust stream.

      And this is what it may look like if something goes wrong. The same test cell is shown." :)

      Very much worth a read, even for a dullard layman such as myself.

      1. Chris G

        I have a copy of ignition backed up in several places, great read.

        Watching those stages land on the barge in a reasonably lively sea is impressive, of course less fun than rapidly self disassembling rockets but either way a pint for Iron Man!

      2. TonyWilk


        Second that as a definite read... these days, even if you aren't anything of a chemist and can't see the horrors of using mercaptans as fuel - you can just look it up.

        As for SpaceX's successes, I like to think John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace really showed the way - this sort of rocket science is actually possible.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If you like "Ignition!" you might also enjoy this summary blogpost about Chlorine Trifluoride (which duly references the book): "Sand won't save you this time" ( ). Yes, it's relevant as it has been tested as a possible rocket fuel...

        1. Roger Varley

          Derek Lowe has written a whole series of similair articles over the years. Try googling for "Things I Wont Work With" for others.

        2. S4qFBxkFFg

          I wish someone who knows how to handle them would put a video on youtube showing dicyanoacetylene and chlorine trifluoride reacting.

          (Firefox disagrees - it's trying to be sensible and change that to oxyacetylene and chlorine tetrafluoride.)

        3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Things I won't work with blog

          Fixed link above:

          sand won't save you now

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Great, but would Amber Rudd / Theresa May approve of such reading material?

        Here in the UK, I'd love to download, but would Amber Rudd / Theresa May approve of the reading material, now everyone's Internet metadata is their reading material?

        I'm just thinking what would have happened Marcus Hutchins with such a book in his's difficult to read anything today without people jumping to conclusions.

    2. AndyS

      > Must have taken determination and deep pockets to keep on sending up the rockets until they had worked it out

      The primary mission, of each and every flight, was to deliver the payload into space. The secondary mission was development of the return.

      So, despite the fireworks, each and every one of these landing RUDs was actually a successful mission, and presumably profitable - previous attempts, after all, simply dropped the vehicle into the ocean after the flight.

  2. ammabamma

    Elon Musk's Flying Circususus

    They're missing the bit at the end with the *PARP!* and the big foot coming down to stomp the rocket on Of Course I Still Love You...

  3. mrjohn

    I think Kim has the edge when it comes to subduing the Pacific with rocket fire.

  4. Public Citizen

    "Learning Experiences"

    Seeing this and remembering NASAs early failures as the succession of "learning experiences" unreeled I couldn't but think about how far SpaceX has come and that every upcoming generation of engineers needs to have these lessons graphically presented early and often.

    Glad to see that Musk still retains enough "humbleness" to show these "not quite a complete success" episodes to the public in collected form.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Learning Experiences"

      One of the most interesting "learning experiences" NASA had was the Mercury Redstone test flight of Nov 21st 1960.

      They launched the rocket and instead of putting it into space it returned almost unscathed to the launch pad 2 seconds later. It reached the dizzy heights of 4 inches and left them with the interesting challenge of working out how to drain the fuel from an almost fully fueled rocket that was no longer connected to the pad.

      Less than six moths after this fiasco which was precipitated by the clamp on an overlong cable failing, Alan Shepard rode one of these rockets into space.

      1. John Crisp

        Re: "Learning Experiences"

        Yup. That's a problem with 'lowest cost bidders' :-)

  5. scarletherring

    Is it just me or do those platform names (Just Read the Instructions and Of Course I Still Love You) remind anyone else of the late Iain Banks? Gravitas indeed!

    1. Jay 2

      I belive Bond villan emulator Musk is a fan of Banks' sci-fi writings and has therefore named things accordingly in tribute/homage. Long may it continue!

    2. Indolent Wretch

      Yes they are both directly named after GCUs from "Player of Games". I think the "Of Course I Still Love You" is particularly apt for it's purpose here.

      1. scarletherring

        Can't wait for the Meatfucker to become a real vessel (Excession is still my favourite)

        1. Craig McGill 1

          The best one there was

          Baffles me that a lot of people don't like Excession as much as the other books in the series. Though thankfully you never see anyone trying to defend Feersum Enjun...

          1. detritus

            Re: The best one there was


            I am Feersum Endjinn.

            LOVED that book, although it got me into a lot of trouble with friends many years ago as I drunkenly tried to claim that vacuum balloons (as featured quite havily in the book, if I recall correctly?) could possibly help us get in to space, me thinking of 'space' as high up above the karman line, my friends thinking it (probably quite correctly) as orbital velocity. I still remember the pitying looks on their faces as they came to perceive previously unseen strata of my ignorance.

            Must be twenty years since I last read it — time to dust it off and give it another read! :)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The best one there was

              I'm with detritus. Loved that book!

            2. Steve the Cynic

              Re: The best one there was

              " get in to space, me thinking of 'space' as high up above the karman line, my friends thinking it (probably quite correctly) as orbital velocity"

              XKCD pointed out that it's easy to get into space (it's just a matter of altitude), but hard to get there in a way that lets you *stay* up there. The latter is a matter of speed more than altitude, although if your perigee is less than a couple of hundred miles, you'll eventually find yourself contemplating the virtues of aerobraking.

              1. Orv Silver badge

                Re: The best one there was

                XKCD pointed out that it's easy to get into space (it's just a matter of altitude), but hard to get there in a way that lets you *stay* up there.

                I've pointed out a few times that "throw yourself at the ground and miss" is a poor description of flying, but a fairly accurate description of orbiting.

              2. detritus

                Re: The best one there was

                This *was* a long time before that memorable XKCD and, more importantly, Kerbal Space Program.

                Thanks to the latter especially, I've got a slightly better handle on things :)

            3. Orv Silver badge

              Re: The best one there was

              Feersum Endjinn

              I loved that book, although it took me three tries to finish it. It really does throw you in the deep end, in a very strange world, without any preliminary explanation. It's a style of storytelling I wish I were good at. I'm the kind who wants to explain everything, which makes for a boring read.

    3. Tycho

      They are...

      Elon Musk is a big fan of pop culture.

      Both drone ships are named for the Culture books. Just like Ludicrous Speed (Space balls) on the Teslas and the fact the volume dial apparently goes up to 11 (Spinal Tap).

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Is it just me or do those platform names..."

      Are you new here?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Setting everyone up for Falcon Heavy.

    Clever of Spacex to put out this (mostly) unseen footage. The launch date of Falcon Heavy is just about to be announced. It keeps realities/perspectives in check, getting three rockets to behave side by side, then separate and land in unison, is going to be one hell of ride.

    Musk is looking ahead, predicting how a potential major failure of Falcon Heavy would get reported after so many sucesses, of late.

    I've never missed a launch yet, whatever the time, never boring to me, there are always slight differences to see, if you know where to look.

  7. EddieD

    Kudos to SpaceX

    Have one of these --------------------------->

    It takes balls to show your mistakes - and style to set them to music.

  8. Paul Kinsler

    and while we're on the subject of space...

    ... don't forget that Cassini will start pining for the fjords later today.

  9. Elmer Phud

    I swore

    That last clip, it comes in at quite a rate then sorts it all out very fast.

    "Oh, do fuck off!" Says I in awe and respect.

    AI's do work -- they work rather well without our meddling.

    Mr Hawking - be very afraid.

    Keep up with the naming system, please.

    The best legacy to Iain.M.Banks I can think of.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: I swore

      Yeah the successful landings STILL look fake to me. It's like a children's cartoon version of a rocket landing.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: I swore

        I don't know, kids today, growing up in a world where rockets really do land like that. They'll think those cartoons are documentaries.

  10. steamnut

    More transparency from IT companies?

    This is a very interesting exercise in openness. Wouldn't it be refreshing if the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Intel and others (you know who you are) were as open with us about their failures? Sadly, they usually over-hype the good and cover up the bad until the volume of web traffic about the failures reaches their PR departments. Even then they are often dismissive.

    Well done Elon and others for spending their Internet cash piles on serious endeavours. And I hope that the Americas cup is not won by Oracle again - he doesn't deserve it!

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: More transparency from IT companies?

      Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Intel - were as open with their failures

      They launch their failures with huge marketing campaigns and make people buy them - you can't get much more open than that !

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder when Microsoft will release a similar video of Windows 10 fails..................

    1. CustardGannet

      If they do, they'll have to whittle it down from its original 28-hour running time.

    2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


      nobody will watch the weeks and weeks of blue screens followed by stupid smiliys going "something has gone wrong"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Because

        The meme is "Something happened". It seems we're still waiting for Microsoft to get the basic operation of a toggle switch right, in terms of 'Defer Feature updates', knowing the difference between 'on and 'off'.

        I'm not optimistic.

  12. Shady

    Was this really released by Space X?

    Or is it a North Korea propaganda film, intended to strike fear into the heart of the evil imperialists dogs by showing the power of their mighty dongs?

  13. sambaynham

    I'm going to use some of these:

    "It's not a bug on the live site, it's an unscheduled programmer performance evaluation."

    1. CustardGannet

      Re: I'm going to use some of these:

      I think they might be taking a lead from C. Montgomery Burns :

      " 'Meltdown' ? That’s one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus."

      1. Orv Silver badge

        Re: I'm going to use some of these:

        In real life they do refer to such things as "power excursions." (As in, the reactor was designed to make 3 MW of power, and it actually made 20 GW...very very briefly.)

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Shirley there's a Yakkety Sax remix out there by now?

  15. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    comments like "rapid unscheduled disassembly"

    and "it DID land, just not in one piece" always remind me of this bit

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: comments like "rapid unscheduled disassembly"

      "and "it DID land, just not in one piece" always remind me of this bit"

      I LOLed! I thought it was meant to be serious for the first 20 seconds or so. I can just image a real Aussi Pol taking just like that!

  16. calmeilles

    So what's the success to failure ratio?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      100% success.

      Every time the rocket survived long enough to blow up while attempting to land, it had already delivered its payload to orbit. Landing was a bonus.

      Alternatively they haven't failed a landing since the first one worked. Yet. Well there have been a couple of geostationary launches where there wasn't enough fuel left to attempt landing, so they didn't try.

      When they launch Falcon Heavy and have 2 first stages that separate simultaneously and attempt to land, that should be an interesting day. Would be a bit sad if they managed to crash them into each other, for example.

  17. erikborgo

    Fix Earth's Climate Using Terraforming Instead of Seeking Escape!

    Massive carbon scrubbers for our very own (and for most of us: only) naturally occurring spaceship will cost 20 trillion dollars... money well spent... but will political headless chickens run at it in time?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Fix Earth's Climate Using Terraforming Instead of Seeking Escape!

      Doesn't do you much good if you are hit by an asteroid

      1. Trilkhai

        Re: Fix Earth's Climate Using Terraforming Instead of Seeking Escape!

        A rocket/orbiter/spaceship won't do us any good if Earth happened to be hit by an asteroid, either. At best that might get the richest people off the planet, but wouldn't protect even a fraction of a percent of Earth's flora & fauna, and the human survivors would have the prospect of spending their remaining days on a planet that makes Earth's most barren desert look like the freaking rainforest by comparison.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Twist Rolarian

          Re: Fix Earth's Climate Using Terraforming Instead of Seeking Escape!

          "Risk is our business." - Jim Kirk

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "the video shows that someone in the editing suite has a sense of humor"

    Elon confirmed on Twitter that he (personally) edited "most of it"

  19. kbutler.toledo

    SpaceX & The Pythonesque

    wink, wink ... nudge, nudge

  20. annodomini2

    Perfect example...

    Of the following:

    "The path to Success is always beset with failure!"

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