How the SpaceX Droneships Got Their Sci-Fi Names

SpaceX is a spaceflight company focused on building big-ass rockets capable of taking people to Mars, but it’s also a strangely famous purveyor purveyor of so-called “droneships,” autonomous platforms floating in the ocean. By now, the world has seen the company manage to vertically land several rockets on one its two ocean droneships. Chances are pretty good you’ve probably heard their very-peculiar names:

Just Read the Instructions

Of Course I Still Love You

And chances are also you’re probably asking: what the hell kind of names are those?

See, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is a pretty big fan of science fiction. One need look no further than his adoration of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe for proof — literally named his company’s future Mars-bound spacecraft Heart of Gold for this reason.

So naturally, Musk would find other ways to reference his most favorite sci-fi works in other ways as well. That’s what the droneships are named for: author Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels.

The autonomous droneships specifically refer to the sentient, planet sized startups featured in Banks’s The Player of Games.

Of Course I Still Love You operates off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean and is a landing platform for Falcon 9 rockets launched from Launchpad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Just Read the Instructions does the same job on the other side of the United States, serving as bobbing landing pad for Falcon 9 rockets launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California.

Both ships have seen their fair share of action, but this weekend will feature both droneships being used in landing attempts in two different Falcon 9 missions.

Why Does SpaceX Use Droneships?

SpaceX’s preferred method to land rockets is to use droneships when the mission calls for it. Droneships are sometimes preferred over landing pads because their position relative to the position of where the rocket separates from the nose cone is closer than a terrestrial landing pad, so the rocket doesn’t need as much fuel, can make a shorter trip back to Earth, and is lighter and cheaper as a result.

Alos, its tougher in some instances to bring rockets back from higher altitudes, and a droneshp can give some leeway into allowing a rocket to aim for a target area rather than a specific bullseye for landing.

Hopefully the entire ground crew is reading the instructions well enough to avoid any mishaps, but even if the missions and landings don’t go as planned, we’ll still love SpaceX.

Photos via SpaceX

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