SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has posted an image of a leg to keep us space cadets interested. Sadly the leg concerned is not a beautifully appointed one attached to his lovely actress partner (and former wife), Talulah Reilly, nor one from his talented and charming number 2 at SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell. Nor for that matter was it Elon’s own shapely and athletic specimen – though perhaps we are pulling Elon’s leg here. In fact the photo was actually of one of the four first-stage landing legs to be flown on the next Falcon 9V1.1 flight.
The first stage of the next flight of this launch vehicle will not attempt a landing, but will instead just carry these four legs as part of an aerodynamic/control test. The launch vehicle stage will, however, try to restart the engine to mimic the deceleration burn needed for such an approach and landing. Eventually SpaceX wants to fly such four-legged first stages, and possibly second stages as well, on a fully reusable basis.
Comment by David Todd: One hopes that SpaceX can make sure that the stage can still land even if one of the legs fails, given that this famously – and explosively – ended the career of NASA’s DC-XA Delta Clipper vertical landing rocket prototype. After all, the current Falcon 9 research rests on that prototype’s achievements.
On a personal note: Of course, having a leg deficiency by the order of one (apologies to the late comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) should not really mean the end of a career, as your correspondent’s Granddad Ted found out. Despite having one leg missing, Granddad Ted became London’s first one-legged black cab taxi driver. He lost his leg to gangrene during World War 2, after a confrontation with a German Africa Korps bullet near Tobruk, Libya.
Ted walked – and worked – on using a wooden/artificial leg, right up until he passed away in 1996. He used to charm his young grandchildren by pretending his wooden leg was where he stashed his cash. (For a time, Ted and his wife Grandma Alice only had two real legs between them. She lost one of hers late in life due to poor circulation induced by smoking.)
Old soldiers never die, of course – or rather their wooden legs don’t. After his passing, Ted’s artificial leg was reportedly sent to help one of the limbless victims of the war in Bosnia. So a bit of Ted lives on. No doubt, being an ex-London cabby’s leg, it still refuses to go south of a river after midnight (Londoners’ joke that one).