• Errol Musk, Elon's father, was a model rocket enthusiast as a child.
  • He tried to build a two-stage rocket, similar to those his son would later pioneer.
  • The rocket failed – and a bunch of chickens paid the price.

The first three SpaceX rockets Elon Musk tried to launch all failed. But the very first time his father tried to launch a serious rocket it not only failed – specularly – but also claimed lives.

The lives of chickens, that is.

As a child he was deeply involved in both astronomy and rocketry, Errol Musk told Business Insider South Africa. His ambition extended to building a two-stage model rocket, similar to the breakthrough, reusable Falcon 9 later pioneered by his son.

See also: Elon Musk's family owns an emerald mine in Zambia — here's the fascinating story of how they came to own it

But things did not go to plan. He and a group of friends watched the first stage of the rocket die out from the piece of veld near Pretoria they used as a test range, Errol says. "And then the rocket turned around and started coming down. And then the second stage ignited."

Driven by its own engine, the rocket crashed back down with force – right onto a chicken farm.

"We went in and there were all these dead white chickens on the ground," says Errol. "About ten dead chickens on the ground."

According to Errol the manager of the farm was quite nice about the incident – but his rocket club moved its testing grounds farther away from the farm for future launch attempts. 

Though the dead chickens were a novelty, accidents were not uncommon.

"We had many injuries which included loss of all hair, all eyelashes, all eyebrows, all frontal hair, so that you looked like a bank robber with a stocking over your face," Errol recalls.

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