Issues & Insights

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Accidents Keep Happening Over And Over Again

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While Groundhog Day came and went as it always does for the rest of us, Elon Musk appeared to be caught in a time loop: his quixotic efforts to land on Mars crashed and burned, again.

On Tuesday – February 2 – a test flight of SpaceX’s Starship, a huge next-generation spacecraft came to an explosive end. While no one was killed, thank goodness, if this kind of Not Ready For Primetime craft keeps getting a chance to fly, eventually someone will be. It’s another instance of SpaceX proving they have a long way to go before they can go where no one has gone before.

The starship is the brainchild of Elon Musk, futurist and CEO of SpaceX, who dreams of one day sending manned missions to Mars. Musk is a charismatic, media-savvy South African innovator who imagines a hopeful future for the human race, which is a nice change of pace from the cult-like nihilists who are rooting for humanity’s extinction because something something climate change. Musk realizes that the best way to preserve humanity from nuclear war, a truly horrifying pandemic, or a random cosmic catastrophe we can’t do anything about is to establish us as a multi-planetary species with colonies on Mars and the Moon.

The immigrant-entrepreneur understands that the best road to the future is the American free-market economy, and describes himself as “nauseatingly pro-American,” which is a pleasant change of pace from the anti-American immigrant-entrepreneur we have to endure coming out of Silicon Valley.

Musk is very likeable – but likeability isn’t enough when we’re talking about rockets into space.

One hopes that the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates rocket launches, understands this idea, as on Tuesday evening, the administration announced it will oversee an investigation into the prototype crash.

This isn’t the first time SpaceX has been investigated by the FAA. On Monday in fact, the FAA opened an investigation into SpaceX’s Starship SN8 for another explosion the previous month during a test where the company violated the term of its FAA license.

Per the FAA, SpaceX sought a waiver to exceed the maximum allowable public risk. SpaceX proceeded with the flight over the FAA’s objections. Now the FAA is looking into corrective actions to protect public safety.

One might call the explosion on Groundhog Day “Strike two,” but these are not the first two problems SpaceX has had.

In September 2016, a Falcon 9 exploded. In February 2019, the Pentagon’s inspector general had to launch an investigation into whether the US Air Force improperly certified SpaceX launch systems, That April, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon exploded during testing, potentially delaying NASA’s plans for manned spaceflight missions, with Musk’s company waiting two weeks to admit there was a critical shuttle failure. That June, SpaceX lost contact with three of its satellites.

Yet, SpaceX’s advocates that year demanded the Air Force lower its standards in the second round so it can compete in the procurement process.

Furthermore, Musk has many outstanding security concerns with the DOD and Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, more than any other major contractors, including some labeled as
“significant nonconformities.” He’s employed a disgraceful procurement-through-protest strategy that hinders the United States’ national security interests and creates delays that cede ground (or rather space) to our adversaries overseas.

Seems like enough should be enough.

Musk is a very likeable public figure. Many conservatives believe that the only person who could possibly fight the so-called progressive war on American values coming from technocrats in Silicon Valley. That would probably be a better place to focus his energy. It seems like where space is concerned, Musk has seen his space-traveling shadow and we’re going to have another six weeks of winter.

Jared Whitley is a freelance author and long-time D.C. politico, having worked in the U.S. Senate, Bush White House, and defense industry.

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8 comments

  • …. Elon Musk escribes himself as “nauseatingly pro-American,” which is a pleasant change of pace from the anti-American immigrant-entrepreneur we have to endure coming out of Silicon Valley ….

    Sprung, as he is, from a Judeo-Christian/Western-civilized culture, Elon Musk suffers no self-loathing nor Projects any, has no chip upon his shoulder and suffers no Hesperophobia. Although born an African and emigrated from the African Continent, Mr Musk is my kind of Hyphenated-American. An AMERICAN-American.

    E Pluribus Unum!

  • Jared, if you’re not breaking things, you’re not trying hard enough. Have you heard of or watched any Musk and SpaceX successes? Have you heard of any of their innovations? Your piece smells like you’re a fan of competitors.

  • The author is oblivious to the many failures in the US space program in the 1950s-90s. And he conveniently ignores the many successful SpaceX’s supply missions and now live missions to the ISS. If Elon Musk and SpaceX are coloring “outside the box” of FAA and other regulations then he should be called to account and brought back inside the lines but to totally write off his efforts going forward would be a loss to the US space program. The Challenger explosion and loss of life was caused by bureaucrats who forced the launch not by the engineers who warned against it.

  • Bureaucratic NASA program managers are TERRIFIED of failure, and being blamed for it. So SLS languishes for decade or more without a flight.

    FAA is now providing cover for their bureaucrat tribal brethren — who are being embarrassed by successes that occur precisely BECAUSE there is no fear of failure in testing unmanned systems.

    You fly by trying, breaking and trying again. That’s how Orville and Wilbur did it. That’s how Bleriot did it. That’s how Sikorsky and Kaman did it.

    That’s the only way this works. Test to failure. The space environment is too extreme to do anything else and anything else will result in a fundamentally weaker and less robust system — and therefore MORE dangerous to eventual crew because of stupid administrative follies in development.

    That’s why Challenger blew up — you know, with actual people, who died.

  • In addition to the many other valid comments here, I have to add that the vehicles that crashed are rough early prototypes of an entirely new class of spacecraft, really little more than concept demonstrators that were given almost zero chance of being completely successful.

    Thus I will make the not completely tongue-in-cheek observation that what we are actually watching in Boca Chica is not rocket-testing, so much as SpaceX learning how to mass-produce a completely new type of rocket, while necessarily recycling the crude early product in a highly educational and entertaining fashion.

  • The author appears to be a bit jealous of Musk. SpaceX has been doing much better than other guys. Let him spend his and investors money.

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