The way that we test the readiness of spacecraft changed forever on January 27, 1967, when a flash fire swept through the Apollo 1 command module during a launch rehearsal test.
The three astronauts inside perished despite the best efforts of the ground crew. It would take more than 18 months, and extensive redesigns, before NASA sent more men into space.
Last year, SpaceX and NASA celebrated the launch of the Falcon Crew Dragon, making history as the first commercial aerospace company to carry humans into Earth’s orbit, and to the International Space Station.
The next critical step in SpaceX’s partnership with NASA is taking astronauts to the moon again, followed by the eventual mission to Mars, which will take place aboard a SpaceX Starship.
There are still some bugs to work out before that can happen, evident in the number of exploded Starships (check two of those out here and here), each one giving them new information that will hopefully lead to an eventual successful launch and landing.
Sticking the landing is important because Starship is supposed to be reusable, cutting costs on space travel significantly.
The most recent attempt, which played out yesterday in Texas, took us one giant leap closer to achieving this, but it didn’t go exactly to plan.
The prototype Starship SN10 lifted off without a hitch, reports CNN, completed all of its manoeuvres expertly, and then touched down on its landing pad.
“We’ve had a successful soft touch down on the landing pad,” SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said during a livestream of the event. “That’s capping a beautiful test flight of Starship 10.”
Everyone in the control room was thrilled, until around three minutes after landing when it inexplicably exploded.
Watch the full flight test below, or scroll down for the explosion:
That sudden explosion just when everyone thought things were going well:
They aren’t sure what caused the explosion yet, but the data collected will hopefully lead to a more successful test flight next time around.
The successful launch was the second attempt of the day. Earlier, the countdown was called off at the last second.
Elon Musk said in a tweet that the abort was triggered by pre-set standards around the rocket’s thrust, which he described as “slightly conservative”. He added that the company would increase the rocket’s thrust limit which would give it a bit more wiggle room.
In the end, Musk decided to focus on the positives:
Starship SN10 landed in one piece! https://t.co/lO4AF47MaN
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 4, 2021
Starship to the moon pic.twitter.com/tVMJbBk3BU
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 25, 2021
While this might look like a failure it’s a crucial step in the process, and a process that needs to be carefully tested ahead of filling the shuttle with humans.
The first paying passenger to the moon, Yusaku Maezawa, along with his eight companions who can apply to be chosen for the mission, will be heading out on a Starship in 2023.
I’m sure everyone at NASA will agree that we don’t want a repeat of the ‘Challenger‘ disaster.
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