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.