SpaceX Rocket Part to Crash Into Moon 7 Years After Launch

Jan 26, 2022 · 89 comments
HAL (Jupiter)
Any chance it will change course and hit Mar-a-Lago?
Bill Palmer (Oakland,CA)
Ground control to Major Musk...
Tom Hayden (Minneapolis Mn)
It’ll just add a note of “burnt” to the cheese, methinks.
Reuben L Sushman (Bangkok)
Hopefully the crash will not caused the moon to be knocked out of orbit causing catastrophic floods, disasters and on a colission course with Earth! :) Wait, doesn't that film premiere next month?
j s (oregon)
Apart from the errant calculations that led to a mars probe crash, this wasn't known with precision? I find that a bit astounding. and as far as Musk... certainly there is no concern. Just look at Starlink, astronomers be damned.
Planetary Occupant (Earth)
I sometimes wonder what if any planning goes into launches like this. When I was an impetuous kid, I had a bow and arrow. We had a big back yard and it was fun to shoot an arrow as close as I could to straight up and watch its descent, always on our own property. That was with a 20 pound draw bow. Then I was given a recurve bow with 40 pound draw. I tried the same thing. The arrow disappeared into the sky, and I thought: the best thing is just to stand here, terrified, and not move, depending on my aim having been not quite straight up. It worked (I'm still here) - but that was the last time for that particular experiment. Good thing that the booster is gonna hit the moon - and not Earth.
Satyaban (Baltimore, Md)
Well, it just goes to show you, "What goes around comes around." No this is really very interesting and I wonder if there are other pieces of machinery likely to do this. It would be something to see happen on the near side of the moon. Rather than considering this trashing the moon, I prefer to see it as prepositioning material as it would be recycled some day by future moon inhabitants.
Jeremiah (Brooklyn)
NASA needs to start installing "No Dumping" signs in space. Like c'mon, have some respect for the universe. Thank you.
Luke (Vancouver)
It's the norm to have and share an opinion even if you know nothing about it. Space junk in low earth orbit (2000km) is an issue. A single item crashing into the moon (384000km away) is not. There are 27000 pieces of TRACKED debris (not including small untracked) in LOW EARTH ORBIT. These have been government contributions. SpaceX isn't creating this debris. I'd wager they're more likely to design the robots that would eventually clean it up. If you want to discourage space exploration, vote on tax reform that would target it. Eg. carbon tax, wealth tax. Personally I'd rather a billionaire fund technological development and science as opposed to super yacht and mega mansion industries.
M. (Western, MA)
At least we know it's NOT going to make a sound.
Hal Jerman (Palo Alto, CA)
It will make quite a loud bang, in the moon itself. Air is not required.
MD (Iowa)
A 65 foot crater is not really that big a deal, we could fill it up in just 1 or 2 trips with our plastic trash!
Danhi (Sydney)
Means nothing to Musk - collateral damage in his ego massaging and bank account stuffing enterprise. Nature and the awesomeness of the universe just don't matter.
Arnold Reinhold (Cambridge, MA)
The predicted unplanned SpaceX impact may provide a little bit is science about what lies under the lunar surface, but the reader responses to this article reveals a lot about what lies under the surface in the minds of Times readers: endless uninformed cynicism.
Steve the Stallion (Santa Fe)
Imagine the uproar if it happens to smack into the new space telescope just launced to orbit on the far side of the moon! Wow... won't that be a news story!
pberning (Maryland)
@Steve the Stallion That is over a million miles from the moon and a very small target.
wonderful (colorado)
If only SpaceX had attached a huge cocktail fork to the rocket stage in order to spear the lunar ball of green cheese. ... A glowing hors d'oeuvres crossing in the night sky... and an extra challenge for the cow jumping over the moon!
Chris (Florida)
Our moon is a desolate, crater-filled place badly in need of interesting tourist attractions. This is progress.
Hitting at a speed of about 5,700 miles /hour with four tons of metal on the surface of the moon is expected to make a 65-foot crater is not a space mission exploration but a misstep of the amateurish technique. Just see the distance from the surface of the moon on Jan 5, Jan 30, Feb 14 and Feb 23rd. Calculate the angular velocity from the orbit point on Feb,23rd to the straight velocity at the instant of hitting on March,4, then we could find the accelerated velocity with four tons of metal. It is a highly exothermic collision by hitting on the surface. Is it possible for the amateur astronomers to give the amount of propellant left in part of the craft at the moment of hitting the surface of the moon? . Creating a crater by crashing into the surface of the moon is neither a scientific approach nor an Eureka moment of Archimedes.
David (MN)
To everyone concerned that this rocket impact is in some way polluting the Moon: Have you seen the Moon recently? Have you noticed the craters covering every inch of its surface? This rocket is incredibly tiny compared to the Moon. It will be a physical event comparable to firing a BB gun at Mt. Everest.
Peter (Australia)
@David “ polluting the Moon” yes but…….most of those craters have been produced by “natural” objects (unless obelisk’s propelled by toxic propellant have been fired at the moon by aliens) I personally have no knowledge of aliens.
Dan Frazier (Santa Fe, NM)
@David Have you seen Mt. Everest lately? It's a real mess thanks to too many hikers leaving all manner of detritus behind, sometimes including their own bodies.
David (MN)
@Peter The moon is an airless, lifeless, irradiated wasteland. Rest assured that volatile organic compounds like rocket fuel will rapidly boil off into space or be degraded by stellar radiation.
Brookdale66 (Manhattan)
This should never have been attempted if they couldn’t stop a 4 ton piece of the rocket from crashing into the moon and creating a 65 foot crater 7 years after its launch. If we don’t understand that, we are not as highly evolved as some of us might think. BD66
Ken (Portland)
What if it hurts the giant dragon egg that is the moon? (Doctor Who, Season 8, Episode 7, "Kill the Moon" aired Oct 4, 2014.)
Sean (Kentucky)
Space X should voluntarily pay a fine as initial funding for some sort of lunar protection fund.
ExPatMX (Ajijic, Jalisco Mexico)
Great! We have made great strides in ruining our planet so we might have to move humanity in the future so, in addition, we foul the moon. We should be proud of ourselves. Bless our hearts!
Denise (Massachusetts)
@ExPatMX "WE"? Elon Musk. Only Elon Musk.
Indifferent (California)
Hopefully no one on the moon has seen Don’t Look Up. I’d hate to think of the panic there this news will create then.
Chandler (albany, ny)
Here we go, America, besmirching and littering the Universe - with no respect for anything other than ourselves/our possessions.
Eric S (Vancouver WA)
@Chandler We tell three year old's that if you make a mess, you have to clean it up!
George S. (NYC)
I question the likelihood that this rocket impact could possibly leave a 65-foot crater upon impact. We all know that those so-called moon landings back in the day were filmed on a Hollywood back lot and those "moon rocks" are ordinary rocks found everywhere in The Valley. The reality is, as every schoolchild knows, the moon is made of green cheese. When this rocket stage hits it will just go "Splat!" and disappear!
Barry Murphy (Ireland)
"grandly named". No. Great Shelford just distinguishes it from East or Little Shelford
Hollis (Sewanee)
Is anyone tracking the Tesla floating through space? If it’s due to land near Spain in the next 7–10 years my kids will be driving age.
Musk's ego is getting in the way of making sense. If he can hit the ISS with a cargo capsule, then he has the brain trust to put an upper stage into an orbit that will keep it far less likely to do half-baked things like this. Starlink is another half-baked idea - 11,000 satellites above and below the ISS orbit, a $500 receiver that is half the size of a person, and now a revised terminal that won't have the problems that the first one has. All this plus a high-priced middling-quality car that is designed to distract which will then get a half-baked driver aid solution that thinks the moon is a traffic light... just because you *can* do something doesn't mean you *should*...
RichieGuay (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
@JP Disposing of an upper stage used to deliver a satellite to Sun-Earth L1 point is a FAR greater technical challenge than launching a cargo capsule to LEO, just saying.
pberning (Maryland)
@JP I laugh. It's not going to hit anything. It's not orbiting the Earth it's orbiting the Sun in an elliptical orbit that takes it beyond the orbit of Mars. It's not going to encounter Earth much.
Michael B (PITTSBURGH, pa)
This is interesting. When can I sign up for a tour of space debris on the moon? Think about it, this would make a terrific tourist attraction.
Librarian (Baltimore, MD)
Somewhere, attorneys are frantically drafting a class action suit, with the Moon as plaintiff.
AKA (Nashville)
Imagine if Russia or China crashed into the Moon and made such a crater? This is irresponsible to say the least.
Phil (SD, CA)
@AKA Why is it irresponsible? Hitting the moon will eliminate it as a piece of orbital debris, not that it was much of a threat before. It's the stuff in low earth orbit that's a problem. And if you hadn't noticed, the moon has been hit quite a few times already over its lifetime.
Robert L (RI)
Space Junk crashing on the dark side of the moon... (Devo & Pink Floyd... but I digress...) didn't the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island begin with earthlings dumping trash in the wrong place ? Growing in numbers Growing in speed I can't fight the future Can't fight what I see...
When discovered by aliens in the future it will be just one more piece of evidence that the Earth was once inhabited by "intelligent" beings.
Bruce Crabtree (Los Angeles)
Let’s send Elon in person to clean up the mess.
Ron T. (Colorado)
Yeah, Elon Musk!! What a trend-setter!! Becoming the first private citizen to pollute another celestial object in our universe! First - pollute the skies with thousands of mini-satellites, then dump trash on the moon - who says money can't buy everything!
Erik Noel (Soap Lake, WA)
@Ron T. : Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop-Grumman and United Launch Alliance are all joint stock companies in USA, just like Space-X, and have all littered our solar system with their launch detritus. And in terms of polluting another celestial object, what is the difference to Luna or Mars, etc. what humans actually drop on them, whether it is the burned out stage of a carrier rocket or a functioning 'rover'? It is all contamination from the celestial object's point of view.
Steve H (Dallas)
A 65 FOOT crater? This has to be very wrong, no?
Steve the Stallion (Santa Fe)
@Steve H If they can caclulate to the minute when this speck will hit another speck traveling in the vastness of space for 7 years.... I think calculating the size of the crater is childs play
Mike M (07470)
@Steve H the object weighs 8,000 lbs and is traveling almost 6,000 mph. For engineers who understand the compositional density of the moon's surface this is a pretty straightforward calculation. We know the mass and we know the velocity, thus we know the force of impact.
rick tornello (chantill va)
Oh well, this should be interesting. If it should somehow hit an underground science lab that the GRAY's have, the consequences might be unintended and interpreted as an act of war.
chambolle (Bainbridge Island)
All the landfills on Planet Earth have reached capacity. It must be time to find another orbiting body to turn into a garbage dump. Leave it to our bevy of billionaires to come to the rescue.
bubba (TN)
Musk is making our near space a trash dumping ground.
Old Guy of Silicon Valley (San Jose)
@bubba Russian/Soviets, NASA, ESA, Chinese, Lockheed-Martin, NASA, Boeing and others have done a lot more to add to space junk than Elon ever will.
David (NY)
Chalk up one more for autopilot.
bubba (TN)
This is nothing. Wait until you see Musk put 42,000 pieces of space junk, aks Starlinks, in the space, killing other precious space vehicles.
kj4321 (San Jose, CA)
Maybe it will hit the Chinese Rover, like how we accidentally bombed their embassy in Belgrade...just kidding.
Chaz (NY)
Wonderful! More space garbage coming back to haunt us.
Somebody (Somewhere)
We better start making those WALL-E bots soon.
Jeremiah (Brooklyn)
Damn. Us humans already be destroying the moon with our garbage. SMH.
Thomas (Somewhere in Europe)
Mt. Musk doesn’t give a damn about anyone or anything but himself. If you don’t like what he is doing, as I don’t, boycott his products as I do.
Old Guy of Silicon Valley (San Jose)
@Thomas Except, he alone dragged the fossil fuel guzzling car industry to go electric. Invented reusable rockets. Working on new ways to transport people. Sure, go ahead boycott his products. BTW, Tesla just announced a record year.
Gravity Grace (New York)
The consequences are puzzling. What happens when trash large enough to dent the moon eventually changes the surface so significantly it affects its gravitational pull on our planet changing the tide and its pull on our monthly cycles and psyches?
M. (California)
@Gravity Grace an academic question, as that's not happening. The moon is enormous compared to anything we could possibly put there.
AKA (Nashville)
New York Times needs to write a stronger article on this mess, and not just concentrate on the impact and which space craft gets to see and record this. We need to hear from all Nations about what they think about this Private Space Enterprise.
bioprof (davis, ca)
@AKA This was a NASA launch!!! It is repeatedly mischaracterized as a Space X mission. Space X was the provider of the launch hardware in contract with NASA. This is a nothing burger problem for the moon airless moon. The Moon gets hit by about 2800 kg of meteor material per day. Of note: spent Lunar Excursion Modules of the Apollo manned moon missions were crashed into the moon. I don't remember any complaints about that.
W (Minneapolis, MN)
I suppose this brings up a legal question: who's liable for the unintended consequences of space debris? The company who built the rocket, or the company that controlled where it went? SpaceX built the thing, but The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is a Government affair.
Baron95 (Westport, CT)
Too bad we may not have an orbiter in position to capture the collision footage. This sort of known (mass, velocity, trajectory) impact can provide a lot of scientific data, and we should make the best of it. It's quite amazing how SpaceX has revolutionized space launching by dramatically increasing capabilities and reducing costs. A true American gem of a company.
Indy970 (NYC)
This begs the bigger question of what's going to happen to all the space junk over time? There has been an exponential increase in satellite launches by different countries, as well as thousands of new small LEO satellites, in addition to all the accumulated debris over time. Unfortunately, not much disappears in space. It's one thing to track all the pieces, large and small, and it is significantly more difficult to clean up the mess. No end to how much space pollution humans are capable of generating.
Planetary Occupant (Earth)
@Indy970 - Good comment. One thing: If it is in LEO it will come down...and perhaps disintegrate in the atmosphere, or perhaps not. There are several big chunks exhibited in various places to so demonstrate.
George S. (NYC)
I'm wondering if the Chinese rover currently cruising around the far side of the Moon might get a glimpse of the impact?
Steve P (Tennessee)
@George S. That would be nice. But the rover would have to be right at the impact location. The Moon is very large and rugged, and Moon rovers don't move very fast. It would be like saying an event is going to happen in Seattle, and I'm on a slow moving vehicle in Miami and wondering if I might be able to drive over to see it happen, and I have to cross mountains on the way there.
George S. (NYC)
@Steve P Oh, I realize all that on a practical level -- but it's kind of cool to fantasize that the rover could just be lucky enough to be where it could give us such a "live" show.
Widjet (Los Angeles, CA)
There was a superhero animated series on ABC in the 90s called The Tick. In one episode a supervillain by the name of Chairface Chippendale, who had a chair for a head, tried to carve his name into the moon with a laser. He ended-up getting the C, H and most of the A before the Tick thwarted him. That was in Season 1. In many future episodes, when they showed the moon it had the CHA carved into it. Could Musk = Chairface Chippendale? If so, who is our Tick?
AKA (Nashville)
There need to be rules; too many private companies are launching too many things and cluttering Space
Patrick Maas (Belmont, NC)
@AKA sounds like a business opportunity for Waste Management if you'd ask me. Hook up with SpaceX and get a few space garbage ships in orbit and start picking up the debris. Then we can use the moon as the landfill for the next hundred years, after which we may send it to the Sun on a long trajectory to get it burned up anyway.
James Lee (Brooklyn)
@AKA Space is a really, really, really big place...
James (Massachusetts)
The moon is pretty important for life on earth- things like tides, and our magnetic field come to mind. Maybe we shouldn't be crashing things into it. Just sayin'.
@James The mass of the moon is 8.1 x 10^19 tons (81 quintillion). The impact of a 4 ton object will have no effect at all.
Marie (BOSTON)
@MM And it wasn't planned or controlled. It is all just a matter of timing. Timing more than anything, in my opinion, controls the universe. Well, at least or daily lives.
risa mandell (ambler, pa)
@MM however, it's disrespectful to the entity of the moon and demonstrates the deadness of a mechanistic mindset as well as its overreach
EAST (Santa Barbara CA)
How is it that corporations befoul our planet -- and now our solar system -- with relative impunity? It seems that individuals like Musk (and Bezos: having used and partially discarded this old earth are content to stick it to new conquests. Meanwhile we all are left with the the enormous consequences.
Whatever (NH)
@EAST Ah, one could have said, "cue the predictable outrage." If you read the article, it says, "... numerous spacecraft sent to the moon have crashed there...". This one wasn't specifically aimed at the moon, but will also crash there. Please tell us, what's the difference? I am guessing this wasn't Elon Musks's decision to make. Unless you know for a fact that it was his decision, *and* one he made despite knowing something like this could happen with high probability, you should stop railing about his "impunity."
EAST (Santa Barbara CA)
Dear @Whatever, Yes, thank you. My point entirely. In what universe is it OK to leave pollution and trash as an end result of a business (or government) endeavor? The end result of a business plan should be just as thorough and sophisticated as the beginning. Empty, rotting, defunct factories, polluted waterways, countless tons of discarded plastic in our oceans, space trash, moon trash, none of this is responsible, ethical business practice. Yes I’m outraged.
Whatever (NH)
@EAST Odd that you should mention only "Musk and Bezos" then...
RajeevA (Phoenix)
Should we name the impact crater “ Musk Crater”?
Kurt (Maryland)
Yup, just dump your trash where no one can see it.
Michael (Door County)
Yep, “Don’t Look Up”.
PD (California)
Companies like Rocket Lab focus large portions of their R&D efforts on ensuring space junk does not pollute this new frontier. Governments and agencies must increase the pressure on SpaceX to do the same as a condition for winning contracts.
Lex (Baltimore, MD)
@PD This is part of the reason for SpaceX's focus on reusability, aiming to create a fully reusable spacecraft that would create 0 spacejunk. Honestly, this second stage hitting the moon is almost preferable to it entering earth's atmosphere as every other second stage does because of scientific benefits, and the fact that it will fully disintegrate when it hits the moon.