Elon Musk’s space-exploration company, SpaceX, had a fateful morning on Thursday. Its Starship, the largest rocket known to man, attempted to launch with its Super Heavy booster for the first time, and blew up four minutes into its flight.
Now you could say this is a failure on a few fronts. The flight was supposed to last about 90 minutes, according to the flight plan the company filed with the FCC. It lasted four.
A big explosion doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that Starship will deliver intergalactic frontiersman to Mars from Earth, as Musk intends.
And also, SpaceX was testing the most powerful reusable rocket yet thanks to its 33-engine Super Heavy booster. It’s almost twice as powerful as the Artemis Space Launch System, NASA’s new generation of rockets that are aiming to return to the moon. Since NASA contracted Starship to play a key role under the Artemis mission banner, so it’s a loss for the independent federal agency’s literal moon shot as well.
Musk, ever the superflack, hedged his bets ahead of time. If Starship gets “far enough away from the launchpad before something goes wrong,” he said before the launch, “then I think I would consider that to be a success. Just don’t blow up the launchpad.”
So four minutes? A win. A success. Huge. Big. Something to be proud of. One could technically watch as fuel, fire, metal, and billions of dollars rain down over the Gulf with tears of pride in one’s eyes. Four minutes: It’s longer than two minutes. And you can’t argue with that.