The real meaning of the SpaceX explosion

SpaceX’s recent launch ended in flames, but some in the media seem unaware of -- or at least uninterested in -- the possibilities created by this supposed mishap.  

The first test launch of SpaceX’s Starship, the largest and most powerful rocket ever, experienced a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” -- i.e., it exploded -- minutes after it was projected into the sky. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, earned endless mockery on social media for the launch's failure. Progressive commentator Keith Olbermann took Starship’s explosion as a chance to poke fun at Musk and express his dissatisfaction with Twitter’s new management, writing, “You blew up SpaceX AND Twitter.” Musk and SpaceX were also the butt of jokes on the late night shows, attention which the New York Times deemed worthy of comment.

Some in the media are laughing now, but they have little reason to. Chris Hadfield, a retired astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station, called the launch an “enormous success.” And Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA, congratulated SpaceX on their launch. 

The beauty in SpaceX’s Starship launch can be seen in the cheers from employees and the optimism of analysts during and following the explosion of the Starship rocket. They all understand that based on what the test flight was able to achieve, the future holds great promise. 

While the rocket did not make it all the way to space, Starship ultimately accomplished its goals: It took off and cleared the launch tower. Furthermore, the launch will provide data to “inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship.” Engineers will now go to work, utilizing the information gathered in the launch to improve the rocket for the next test flight. Despite the media’s censure, this project, so far, is on a good trajectory. 

“Failed” launches are nothing new or unique to SpaceX; they are simply part of the innovative process. En route to creating the first powered airplane, the Wright brothers crashed multiple times. And John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, ultimately accomplished his great feat in a rocket that exploded in close to 50% of its test flights

The hope for Starship is that it will someday be able to deliver enormous numbers of satellites into space and travel to the moon and Mars. The Starship could lower the cost of launching satellites and humans into space, leading to wider space access and the creation of new markets in the space economy.

Crashes in test flights are simply a part of aerospace technology, a mere step on the path to ultimate success. The employees of SpaceX and those in the space industry understand what a huge step forward the first test launch of Starship was. The test’s fiery ending is not an ending at all, as SpaceX will use this test to improve Starship, and the next test, and the next, until one day Starship will be what everyone dreams it can be. The next test will come in a few months, according to Elon Musk. Onward and upward from here. 

Benjamin Ayanian is an Innovation Fellow at Young Voices, an organization for young, pro-liberty commentators. His writings have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Yahoo News, and more. His Twitter is @BenjaminAyanian.

Image: Official SpaceX Photos

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