If you haven’t been living under a rock, you probably saw at least one image of Elon Musk’s “Starship” rocket blowing up last week. This is a really big rocket, some 165 ft high, which Musk intends to use to ferry humans to Mars, as early as 2026. And before that, paying passengers like you and I are to climb aboard for brief tourist excursions to outer space.
The rocket is designed to land back on its launchpad, to be ready for its next flight. That part is what went wrong last Wednesday. I snagged three screenshots from the live-streamed SpaceX video on YouTube to show what happened. The first image shows the vessel descending on its rocket jets, obviously dropping way too fast as it neared the ground.
This is what happened upon impact:
Ouch. It turns out that not enough fuel was getting to the rocket engines to slow the vessel’s descent.
Here are the smoking ruins:
Another man may have been chagrined over this outcome, but not the indomitable Musk. He had given this flight only one in three odds of landing intact, and he was ecstatic over the vast majority of things that went right, and the useful data collected. After all, the rocket did successfully take off, ascend to 40,000 ft (12 km), and mainly descend in the desired horizontal orientation to minimize overheating. Right after the blast he tweeted:
“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!”
When you are Elon Musk, a little RUD (Rapid Uncontrolled Disassembly) is all in a day’s work. Which may be partly why he accomplishes so much more than most of us.