The CRS-16 mission launched supplies to the ISS on Wednesday, but the booster headed for the landing pad missed and landed in the water instead, ending SpaceX's flawless record of 12 previous successful landings.
SpaceX was supposed to land the Falcon 9 rocket's spent first stage at a pad on the ground at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida, called "Landing Zone 1". "Appears to be undamaged & is transmitting data".
Unfortunately, a grid fin failure resulted in the booster spinning, which was caught on video and shared by company CEO Elon Musk on his Twitter account. "Ships en route to rescue Falcon", he wrote. After more than two dozen successful rocket landings, SpaceX's most recent attempt resulted in a splashdown, though the rocket remained intact and was retrieved by the company.
Space X vice president Hans Koenigsmann said the booster had deliberately aimed for the sea to avoid built-up areas after sensing a problem. He did not know if it could be reused.
"Public safety was well protected here", he told AP.
The disappointment was offset by the successful flight of the Dragon capsule and its 2500kg of cargo.
It should arrive at the space station on Saturday.
Besides all the fixings for Christmas dinner, the delivery includes 40 mice and 36,000 worms for ageing and muscle studies.
Researchers expect a tenfold increase in the worm population. It turns out their muscles are similar to ours in structure and function, making them ideal lab substitutes, said lead scientist Timothy Etheridge of the University of Exeter in England.
The launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was delayed.
"What a great day for a launch", said Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana. They're away from their families and friends for months on end, don't have access to numerous basic creature comforts we all enjoy, and live on a somewhat limited selection of food... unless, of course, it's Christmas.