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“Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat..”

October 3, 2011

That’s what Bullwinkle Moose always said just before he pulled out the lion instead. The idea of remote-controlled landings of spacecraft and booster stages isn’t new, just damned difficult. I would expect that today it is made somewhat easier because of the accuracy of GPS, and the fact that today an astonishing amount of computing power can be compressed into a very small space. Then there is the use of carbon fiber and composites that lighten the airframe considerably. It looks really, really unstable to me, but I’m obviously no engineer. The second stage in particular is a trick, I think; it looks like it has a heat shield as well. Maybe they can pull it off.

What I really like is the landing of the Dragon capsule back at the Cape. Remember that these aren’t just some dinky little retrorockets. It uses the Launch Escape System, designed to boost the Dragon off the Falcon in case of an emergency. It looks pretty slick dropping right next to the shuttle landing strip. It would have been even cooler if a pilot stepped out afterwards!

This is part of the bigger plan that Elon Musk promoted on the video last spring. At the end, they use the Dragon to land on Mars.

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