Starship: From idea to explosion

Pamela L. Gay, Ph.D.
6 min readApr 24, 2023

At 8:33am Central Time April 20, Starship 24 lifted off atop Super Heavy Booster 7. During launch, keen eyes and well-pointed cameras were able to determine not all of the Booster’s engines were firing, and periodic changes in the rocket’s flame seemed to indicate a few things ceased to function in fiery ways. Once making it through MaxQ, the rocket, ah, ceased its upward movement, and the booster and Starship tumbled toward the ocean together, where they were ultimately blown up prior to impact.

A full assessment of just what happened will have to be done before the FAA allows more launches to take place.

As has been pointed out by a lot of people, had this happened during the SLS launch in November 2022, it would have led to congressional hearings, and folks would have probably been fired at the very least, and the program could have potentially been cancelled. SLS represents our historic way of designing missions: large government contractors spend years and billions of dollars carefully building things that work correctly the first time, and all failure modes have to thought of ahead of time and engineered for without a lot of test data.

SpaceX, however, uses an iterative approach that collects data and refines defines as version after version gets put through its paces. The goals for this launch was pretty simple: get off the ground, don’t destroy the launch pad, and collect data to show how the next iteration can improve on the current design.

And, they got off the ground, they did not destroy the pad (they may have destroyed everything else, however), and they collected data. Mission accomplished? Not really, but NASA administrator Bill Nelson reminded us, “Every great achievement throughout history has demanded some level of calculated risk, because with great risk comes great reward. Looking forward to all that SpaceX learns, to the next flight test — and beyond.”

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Pamela L. Gay, Ph.D.

Astronomer, technologist, & creative focused on using new media to engage people in learning and doing science. Opinions & typos my own.