As SpaceX prepares to attempt its first genuine recovery of a (theoretically) reusable first stage, check out these amazing pictures taken of the first stage of a Long March 3A rocket (the same one that closed out 2014 placing the Fengyun 2G weather satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit), falling down after it was spent on ascent. It’s pretty cool, and neat to see families showing their kids the business end of one of the engines . . . at least until you notice the orange cloud hanging over the rocket in some of the pictures. That’s the distinctive color of dinitrogen tetroxide, the highly corrosive oxidizer used in this family of rockets along with hydrazine. To get an idea of how bad it is to inhale that, the ASTP Apollo crew accidentally inhaled some during their descent, when a pressure equalization valve opened after entering the atmosphere but before the maneuvering jets had shut off, allowing the propellant to enter the cabin. The crew were barely conscious on recovery, and spent two weeks in the hospital after splashdown, recovering from the damage to their lungs. I’m not real confident about the masks they’ve issued to the soldiers guarding the impact site of the spent stage.
(All pictures from China News Service.)