Apr 24, 2023

Starship Test Flight Ends With Explosion, Musk Says SpaceX ‘Learned a Lot’ For Next Launch Transcript

Starship Test Flight Ends With Explosion, Musk says SpaceX 'Learned a Lot' For Next Launch Transcript
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The most powerful rocket ever built blasted off from its launch base in Texas but exploded roughly four minutes into its flight. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, today, launched the first test flight of Starship. Its 400-foot rocket meant to, one day, send people to the moon and eventually, Mars, the most powerful rocket ever built, blasted off from its launch base in Texas.

Speaker 2 (00:14):

We should have had separation by now. Obviously, this does not appear to be a nominal situation.

Speaker 1 (00:21):

Only to explode roughly four minutes into its flight. The rocket, we should say, was unmanned. Musk says the next launch attempt will be in a few months. Science correspondent, Miles O’Brien, is here to unpack it all for us. So Miles, we should say SpaceX calls this a rapid, unscheduled disassembly, what we would call an explosion. Help us understand what happened during this test flight.

Speaker 3 (00:44):

I used to get mad at NASA for saying off-nominal. So this is a good turn of a phrase, for sure, Jeff. It appears several of the engines were not working almost from the outset. A few weren’t even fired up when it left the pad. And as it ascended, several more failed upwards, at least a half a dozen, maybe close to eight, depending on how you’re counting on when you’re looking. And you can imagine, of course, that would cause it to lose altitude, of course. But also, with 33 engines and as many as seven or eight of them out, that would cause all kinds of stability and navigational problems for it. Ultimately, it got to a point where it was unstable. It did not separate the two, the Falcon Heavy craft, Super Heavy craft, and the Starship itself did not separate. And so at that point, they pushed the button and it was self-destruct time.

Speaker 1 (01:44):

So previous iterations of Starship have failed in testing before, what’s interesting about this is that SpaceX and Elon Musk say that failure really is an option for SpaceX. Why?

Speaker 3 (01:56):

Yeah, it’s a different ethos than NASA has evolved toward. I mean, if you go back to the early days of NASA, this is… There were a lot of rockets that blew up on the pad before Alan Shepard ever stepped into a space capsule. But that idea of failure being an option is actually interesting. Lots of tests, lots of failures, lots of lessons learned is the approach that Elon Musk has taken. And so you had this odd juxtaposition of this rocket in a million pieces way above the shoreline in Texas, and the SpaceX crew in California and Texas cheering. It was kind of hard to square that. But the idea was they got pretty far, they got a lot of data and they didn’t damage the ground equipment, which could have really slowed things down.

Speaker 1 (02:46):

Why is Starship such a big deal? What does it mean for the future of space exploration if it does succeed?

Speaker 3 (02:53):

Well, it’s really big. It’s twice as powerful as the mighty Saturn V, which sent astronauts to the moon in the late ’60s, early ’70s, little less than twice as powerful as the more recent space launch system. And more importantly, it’s fully reusable or portends to be, at least. Full reusability is like the holy grail of space fight. Imagine if every time you flew on a 737, they had to build a new one. Imagine how cheap your ticket would be to Cleveland. So this idea of being able to recover these spacecraft and reuse them is a great and significant change in the game. And so ultimately, if it works out, it is something that makes space more accessible to more people.

Speaker 1 (03:43):

Let’s talk about Elon Musk for a second because he’s a controversial figure. He’s been criticized for his management of Twitter since taking it over. He’s been accused of fostering a toxic culture of racism and sexism at the businesses he runs to include Tesla. He has a reputation for being a task master and a micromanager. How, if at all, is SpaceX affected by that?

Speaker 3 (04:05):

It’s interesting, as a parent, my inclination is to tell him to get off of social media and pay attention to something important. But I will say this, he’s obviously got a lot of irons in the fire. There’s all kinds of controversy. He is a famous or infamous micromanager on top of all that, how that all works, I don’t know, but I do know this, the team he has built at SpaceX is pretty extraordinary. He’s got a lot of deep talent there. Gwynne Shotwell, who is his number two there, and makes a lot of the key decisions, is an extraordinarily talented space executive. And so all I can say is, from the outside, he’s got a lot of good people who are well-trained in the space world. And whether he’s paying full attention or not may not matter that much.

Speaker 1 (04:56):

And lastly, Miles, when SpaceX says they’re going to attempt another launch in a few months, how is that even possible? Do they have replica mammoth rockets softened storage somewhere? How are they going to be ready in time?

Speaker 3 (05:08):

They’ve got a production facility down there in Texas. This particular rocket was not meant to be recovered. They weren’t going to test that out if they had gotten to do a full orbit or close to an orbit. So that production line still is there. Those rockets are still in the state of readiness that they were before. The ground equipment wasn’t damaged. So the two things that have to happen is they have to figure out what went wrong and try to fix that. And they have to go back to the Federal Aviation Administration and get approval once again to fly. So who knows how long that will take. And bear in mind, NASA would like to use a derivation of Starship to send its astronauts from lunar orbit down to the surface in 2025. That’s a short time away, isn’t it, Jeff?

Speaker 1 (05:54):

Absolutely. Miles O’Brien, always enjoy speaking with you. Thanks for being with us.

Speaker 3 (05:58):

You’re welcome, Jeff.

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