As I read further, the article stated, “the unmanned Falcon 9 spacecraft will first head to the International Space Station, delivering supplies and equipment, but then it’s going to do something never done before: try to come back and touch down safely on a barge in the Atlantic ocean.”
Wow, I thought to myself, the spacecraft would fly to the space station, deliver its cargo and return to Earth to be reused again. That has been the dream for all space enthusiasts for years – a reusable spacecraft. However, I knew the truth because I follow the space programs but unfortunately, most people who read the article would not readily understand the actual significance.
In reality, what is expected to happen is that the first stage of the rocket will never leave Earth but instead take the cargo closer to orbit and then return to Earth in an attempted landing on the barge. The rocket engines will be reusable, not the whole spacecraft.
Whether Dreyfuss’ mistake is because of her lack of a clear understanding of the subject matter, she is writing about or because of confusion from her sources is irrelevant because her writing should be as accurate as possible. Her article leaves the impression that we are much further along in space exploration then where we really are.
It is important to note that what SpaceX is attempting to achieve is significant, however, Emily’s article should be corrected for accuracy. Only the first-stage of the rocket will be landing on the barge, a part not expected to leave Earth. We still have a long way to go before we truly have reusable spacecraft.
Update on January 6, 2015 at 15:37 ET: Emily Drefuss let me know that she had corrected her article.