Trying to land a SpaceX rocket in this simple video game could drive you mad

Elon Musk SpaceX falcon 9 reusable rocket launch landing BI Graphics 4x3Samantha Lee/Business Insider; SpaceX/Flickr; Getty ImagesElon Musk and one of SpaceX’s self-landing Falcon 9 rocket boosters.

Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX, are on the cusp of something huge.

On March 30, SpaceX will try to fire off a used rocket booster — the biggest and most expensive part of its Falcon 9 launch system — and land it safely so it can be reused once more.

Ordinarily, boosters cost tens of millions of dollars to build, but always sink into the ocean or crash into the ground after helping to deliver a payload into orbit.

Not SpaceX boosters — those can touch down on land or on a ship at sea.

Musk and his band of engineers have made this look easy, with eight such landings since December 2015. It is not easy, but you don’t need to take our word for it. Instead, just play “SpaceX Falcon 9 Lander“, a free retro-style video game created by a user of MIT Media Lab’s project “Scratch”.

Your goal? Land SpaceX’s booster on a drone ship without blowing it up.


To navigate the rocket, use a keyboard’s arrow keys (or the letters WASD). The up-arrow controls the rocket’s thrusters; tapping the left- or right-arrow keys helps line up the rocket to land on the ship.

If you conserve too much fuel, you’ll come in too hot and crash. If you burn too much fuel, you’ll fall out of the sky and crash. Thrust too much to the left or right, and you’ll tip the rocket and crash. And if you veer off-course — you guessed it — you’ll crash.

This game is nowhere near as difficult as actually landing a rocket at sea, of course, even though Falcon 9 boosters use artificial intelligence to do so.

SpaceX/Flickr (public domain)SpaceX’s first-stage booster of a Falcon 9 rocket landing on a drone ship in the ocean.

However, it helped us appreciate how hard SpaceX engineers must have worked to get it right.

It took them many years and several failed attempts to land a Falcon 9 booster on a ship on April 8, 2016 — the same one that will be re-used for Thursday’s launch. If the used launcher works this time — and lands itself once again — experts say it could be “potentially revolutionary” in reducing the extreme cost of sending satellites, cargo, and people into space.

The game also gives us respect for the folks at Blue Origin. That rocket company, started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has also recently mastered reusable rocketry. (Though their current launch vehicle, the New Shepard, is a smaller one designed for suborbital space tourism.)

So what are you waiting for? Give the game a try at its home page on “Scratch” and try not to drive yourself mad.

Kelly Dickerson wrote a previous version of this post.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company, Bezos Expeditions.

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