Fun things to find on a tropical beach include but are not limited to: seashells, old coins, a message in a bottle, and, for one group of vacationing guys last weekend, a massive piece of a SpaceX rocket.
Kevin Eichelberger and two of his friends came upon a large, mostly intact piece of the fairing of a SpaceX launch from earlier this year. The fairing is the nose cone used to protect a rocket's payload, and is one of the most recognizable portions of a rocket.
"The three of us were staying at a beach house in the Bahamas and one of the guys saw, from the backyard, this giant thing that floated ashore," Eichelberger, who is the CEO of a Charleston, South Carolina ecommerce company, told me. "As we got closer, we said, 'it looks like part of a spaceship, I wonder if it's SpaceX.'"
Turns out it was. Eichelberger and his friends grabbed the hunk of steel and carbon fiber and attempted to drag it off the coral reef it was stuck to. They were eventually able to pull it almost all the way to shore.
"It had some barnacles on it, it was in the water for a couple months at least," he said. "It was probably 10 feet by 6 fix, I could have laid down inside that thing with room to spare. And it was full of water, so I'm not sure how heavy it was on its own merit."
Finding a piece of a rocket is cool, but the discovery might actually help SpaceX. Housed inside the fairing were two GoPro cameras, which Eichelberger and his friends were able to pry out of their housings. The housings themselves had serial numbers on them, which confirmed it was a SpaceX rocket.
"I'm sure something inside of there is salvageable, it's more useful in their hands, anyway," Eichelberger said. "The cameras were on the inside, looking at the interior of the ship, I believe for monitoring purposes."
Unfortunately, the SD cards appeared to be blank when he put them into his laptop, but he believes SpaceX may be able to pull some corrupted information from it. Eichelberger tweeted photos of the rocket at SpaceX founder Elon Musk and was surprised to see that Musk wanted the SD cards back.
"Cool, thanks for letting us know," Musk tweeted. "This is helpful for figuring out fairing reusability."
One of Eichelberger's friends mailed the SD cards back to SpaceX Monday. A spokesperson for SpaceX told me that the company had nothing to add to Musk's tweet.
Eichelberger said the island he was staying on was tiny and didn't seem to have much in the way of law enforcement or officials to tell about the discovery. Besides Musk's tweet, he hasn't heard anything more from the company, but wouldn't mind, say, a tour of the SpaceX facilities.
"There were some other people looking at it, but I think it's probably still there. It was a quiet place," he said. "Just getting the tweet from Elon was great and a fun experience. We don't expect to get anything more out of it, but I wouldn't complain if we hear more from them."