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    SpaceX's Brazenly Illegal Rocket Launch
    By Robert Cooper | August 26th 2013 02:00 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Robert

    I have given up on categories. I did a BA in physics, a PhD in molecular biology, and now a postdoc in a bioengineering department. So call that...

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    Hot off of revolutionizing ground-based transportation with the electric car company Tesla and proposing to revolutionize slightly-above-the-ground-based transportation with the Jetsons-esque Hyperloop, eccentric billionaire genius Elon Musk (of PayPal fame) appears to believe he has risen above the law.  

    Or rather, he believes his Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) Grasshopper rocket has risen above the law.

    Ok, so the Grasshopper rose, but 250 m is still legally within World Chess Federation jurisdiction.
    What was this brazen defiance of international norms?  On August 9, Musk's engineers fired his 10-story SpaceX Grasshopper rocket, moved it a tenth of a km horizontally, and then placed it back on the exact same landing pad where it began.  

    As anyone who has played rocket chess knows, the touch-move rule means that once you touch the big red button that fires your rocket, you must make a legal move with that rocket.  Replacing the rocket on the same landing pad, especially after moving 100 m sideways, is a clear violation of international rocket chess tournament rules.

    The touch-move rule is the 2nd most important rule of rocket chess, preceded only by "Let the Wookiee win."
    Chess rule-breaking aside, it would be rather difficult to overstate how impressive this demonstration was.  SpaceX is attempting to create a fully re-useable rocket ship, which the company claims could cut the cost of space travel by up to 99%.  True, the late space shuttle returned home in useable condition, but the actual rockets it needed to get to orbit were jettisoned into the ocean (not currently serviced by UPS pickup), and its external fuel tank burned up in the atmosphere on every flight.  With its Falcon 9 Grasshopper vehicle, SpaceX is trying to make a rocket ship that just needs to refuel (and perhaps get a quick once-over from Scotty) between flights.

    This wouldn't quite be the one-piece Millenium Falcon - like the space shuttle, its booster rocket would separate after spending most of its fuel so the capsule wouldn't have to carry it around as extra dead weight.  Unlike the shuttle booster, however, the SpaceX rocket stage would come back to Earth under its own power and make a controlled, vertical landing back on its pad, reuniting with the Dragon capsule stage after that, too, made a controlled landing.  

    That all sounds great on paper, but it would require some pretty deft maneuvering for a 10 story obelisk.  

    And that's exactly why this demonstration was so impressive.


    Now that was an impressive feat!

    In an unrelated comment, I leave you with something I learned from a Stephen Jay Gould footnote in 1999:

    "In this essay's spirit of dispelling a standard set of confusions that have already surrounded the forthcoming millennium, may I at least devote a footnote to the most trivial, but also the most unambiguously resolvable. Millennium has two n’s — honest to God, it really does, despite all the misspellings, even in most of the books and product names already dedicated to the event. The adjective millennial also has two, but the alternative millenarian has only one. (The etymologies are slightly different. Millennium is from Latin mille, one thousand, and annus, year — hence the two n’s. Millenarian is from the Latin millenarius, "containing a thousand [of anything]," hence no annus, and no two n's.)" ~ Dousing Diminutive Dennis’s Debate

    5 points for the typo find, 995 points for the obscurity of the reference you used to point it out.  And I was proud of getting the second E in wookiee...