An exciting week for aeronautics enthusiasts saw SpaceX CEO Elon Musk launch his own, personal Tesla Roadster toward Mars’ orbit using reusable rocket boosters. It was a product of remarkable engineering, and a source of awe and internet memes across the planet (Earth, not Mars).
Less than a week earlier, though, a Jan. 31 SpaceX launch had some media speculating about the fate of a Falcon 9 booster that survived a landing in the Atlantic Ocean in one piece – an “amazing” feat, Musk tweeted.
Reports from independent space news website AmericaSpace and a tweet by a managing editor of NasaSpaceFlight.com initially claimed that the Air Force had conducted a “scuttling operation” (an intentional sinking) on a first-stage booster that successfully helped launch a satellite into orbit.
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“While the Falcon 9 first stage for the GovSat-1 mission was expendable, it initially survived splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the stage broke apart before we could complete an unplanned recovery effort for this mission. Reports that the Air Force was involved in SpaceX’s recovery efforts are categorically false,” wrote SpaceX communications director John Taylor in an email.
The statement does not specify how the rocket broke apart or whether it was intentional. But AmericaSpace, citing anonymous sources, now claims, “the Air Force was, instead, initially considered to take care of the job, but a commercial company of demolition specialists was eventually hired to safely destroy the hazardous booster.”
In other words, the military apparently did not sink SpaceX’s rocket booster – and if that had been the case, it probably would have been a contract job at the request of SpaceX itself.
The rocket likely posed a serious threat to marine life and watercraft.
Meanwhile, Musk’s Roadster and now-famous “Starman” mannequin continue onward toward Mars’ orbit and beyond.