Blow Dryers And Metal Shears: Hacks Of Early Falcon 9 Flights

Orbiting over our heads right now are two human beings who flew to the International Space Station in a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle on top of a Falcon 9. The majority of coverage focused on the years since human spaceflight last launched from Florida, but [Eric Berger] at Ars Technica reminds us it also makes for a grand ten-year celebration of the SpaceX workhorse rocket by sharing some stories from its early days.

Falcon 9 is a huge presence in the global space launch industry today, but ten years ago the future of a young aerospace company was far from certain. The recent uneventful launch is the result of many lessons learned in those ad-hoc days. Some early Falcon 9 flights were successful because the team decided some very unconventional hacks were worth the risk that paid off. A bit of water intrusion? Dry it out with a blow dryer and seal it back up. Small tear in a rocket nozzle? Send in someone to trim a few inches with shears (while the rocket was standing vertical on the launchpad).

Industry veterans appalled at “a cowboy attitude” pounced on every SpaceX failure with “I told you so.” But the disregard for convention is intentional, documented in many places like this old Wired piece from 2012. Existing enshrined aerospace conventions meant the “how” was preserved but the “why” was reduced to “we’ve always done it this way” rarely re-evaluated in light of advancements. Plus the risk-averse industry preferred staying with flight-proven designs, setting up a Catch-22 blocking innovation. SpaceX decided to go a different way, rapidly evolving the Falcon 9 and launching at a high cadence. Learning from all the failures along the way gave them their own set of “why” to back up their “how” growing far beyond blow dryers and metal shears. We’re happy to see the fail-learn-improve cycle at the heart of so many hacker projects have proven effective to send two astronauts to the space station and likely beyond.

[Photo: SpaceX Crew Demo-2 on the launch pad]

10 thoughts on “Blow Dryers And Metal Shears: Hacks Of Early Falcon 9 Flights

    1. Not yet, uses too much water. So get going with an arduino and a scrap keurig to make the first space washer, that recirculates and filters a liter of water, and lets you clean stuff by passing it through…

      … actually though you might wanna do something along the lines of a mini A/C or fridge unit that boils off the water on one side of the heat exchanger to blast through the fabric, and sucks it back from the other side, then you put it through wringer/mangle rollers, to force out the bulk, then the cold side is sucking through it to recover moisture. Also gravity is turned off, so you’ve gotta use electrostatics, capillary action, or centrifugal force to get the water away, drip dry isn’t going to work. Then just when you think a mini spin dryer machine sounds ideal, you realise it’s gonna work like a reaction wheel and screw up the orientation of the ship.

      Anyway, make something that washes clothes in a cubic foot and you’ll sell a mill… maybe 10.

  1. This reminds me of a story I once heard and half remember, seems an American engineer was in Russia looking at Russian rocket engines with a Russian engineer and he asked, “So how do the gimbles on the engine work?” and the Russian grabbed the bell of the engine, yanked it all around and said “Like this.” and the American nearly shit himself because that would never be done at home.

    1. Heh reminds me of one time I tapped an excavator bucket with my foot and someone yells “That’s a quarter million dollar bucket!!” (It was huge) anyway, couldn’t help thinking it was a waste of 250,000 if the forces inflicted on it from tapping it with my toe were going to damage it in any way.

      1. Once when I was in a mens clothing store, the salesman stopped me from putting on a tie.
        He said I would ruin it if I tied it.
        So, I put it back on the rack and left the store.
        I mean, if their ties will be ruined on the first use, I’ll do my tie shopping elsewhere.

  2. It makes it all that much more fun. To think that good old fashion steel workers are building a rocket and spaceship that is expected to go to Mars. Likely to succeed. That’s got to be pretty darned cool huh? I think it is.

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