The SpaceX successfully launched it's Dragon capsule into space, carrying supplies to the International Space Station, which included festive meals for Christmas.
However, the first-stage booster of its Falcon 9 rocket missed its landing zone upon re-entry, ending up in the sea just a couple of kilometres offshore.
Groans filled SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, as live video showed the first-stage rocket booster spinning out of control, still high above Cape Canaveral. It was the company's first missed ground landing, although it has overshot floating barges plenty of times in the past, a tougher feat to pull off.
A SpaceX commentator called it a "bummer," but noted it was secondary to the Falcon 9 rocket's main mission of getting the Dragon capsule to orbit.
SpaceX chief Elon Musk said the booster appeared to be undamaged.
The hydraulic pump for the landing fins apparently stalled, but the engines stabilized the approximately 160-foot-tall booster just in time, allowing for "an intact landing in water!" Musk noted via Twitter. "Ships en route to rescue Falcon," he tweeted.