No one had ever done this before, and the attempt was unsuccessful. CEO Elon Musk said that the rocket had simply landed too hard: in his words, "Close, but no cigar."
Today, SpaceX released a video of the landing:
Musk called the explosion a "rapid unscheduled disassembly" event, and explained that the rocket's landing systems didn't have enough hydraulic fluid to stabilize the rocket as it approached the platform.
But the good news is that just getting the rocket to the platform is a very impressive feat, and shows solid progress on the part of SpaceX. In two to three weeks, the company will try again, with more hydraulic fluid aboard.
Why SpaceX wants to land a rocket on a platform
Normally, rockets are simply allowed to break up into pieces or sink in the ocean after launching spacecraft into orbit. But one of the factors that make space travel so expensive is the fact that most of the equipment used to put cargo or people in orbit is destroyed after each use. Musk has famously likened this to throwing away a brand-new 747 after a single flight to London.
A controlled landing of a rocket — such as the Falcon 9 rocket that SpaceX launched last week, to carry an uncrewed space capsule up to the International Space Station to deliver cargo — could potentially let the company reuse the main component of the rocket in a future flight.
Building a new Falcon 9 costs $54 million, but using it to put a payload into orbit uses only about $200,000 worth of fuel. So figuring out how to reuse the rocket — something that no one has ever done before — could dramatically drive down the cost of space travel.