“Rapid Uncontrolled Disassembly”: Musk’s Positive Take on Rocket Explosion

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you probably saw at least one image of Elon Musk’s “Starship” rocket blowing up last week. This is a really big rocket, some 165 ft high, which Musk intends to use to ferry humans to Mars, as early as 2026. And before that, paying passengers like you and I are to climb aboard for brief tourist excursions to outer space.

The rocket is designed to land back on its launchpad, to be ready for its next flight. That part is what went wrong last Wednesday. I snagged three screenshots from the live-streamed SpaceX video on YouTube to show what happened. The first image shows the vessel descending on its rocket jets, obviously dropping way too fast as it neared the ground.

This is what happened upon impact:

Ouch.  It turns out that not enough fuel was getting to the rocket engines to slow the vessel’s descent.

Here are the smoking ruins:

Another man may have been chagrined over this outcome, but not the indomitable Musk. He had given this flight only one in three odds of landing intact, and he was ecstatic over the vast majority of things that went right, and the useful data collected. After all, the rocket did successfully take off, ascend to 40,000 ft (12 km), and mainly descend in the desired horizontal orientation to minimize overheating.  Right after the blast he tweeted:

“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!”

 When you are Elon Musk, a little RUD (Rapid Uncontrolled Disassembly) is all in a day’s work. Which may be part of why he has accomplished so much more than most of us.

About Scott Buchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, theology, folding scooters, and composting toilets, at www.letterstocreationistists.wordpress.com . Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 100 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas. Now retired and repurposed as a grandparent.
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4 Responses to “Rapid Uncontrolled Disassembly”: Musk’s Positive Take on Rocket Explosion

  1. josephurban says:

    Mr Musk is certainly using his money to do what he thinks is important. But I think we need to keep in mind that most major achievements in the last 100 years are not financed by individuals. they are the result of a massive input of tax dollars. The internet and space travel are 2 examples. Basic research and development are paid for by the taxpayer, then used by people like Musk. While I do not degrade what he is doing keep in mind that nothing he has done would be possible without the massive investment by the collective little guys, you and I.

    • J.U., quite true. And besides money from taxpayers, Musk is floated by private investors. My understanding is that Tesla makes little money, but is funded largely by massive stock offerings bought up by people who believe in his vision.
      I could never bring myself to buy stock in companies that had no real prospect for solid earnings for years, so I never bought Tesla, or Amazon way back when. Silly me.

  2. Berne K Stober says:

    My respect for Elon Musk was not that high a while ago. I viewed him as just another rent seeker, making money off a business model predicated on government subsidies and mandates. But my view has changed as I’ve gotten to know his accomplishments better. And certainly if Starlink brings me a factor of 10 or more improvement in my rural internet speed I will be a total fan!

    Also never bought Amazon or Tesla because in my old school thinking, earnings must be there first. So I too, feel silly, Scott.

    • josephurban says:

      Don’t be too worried about not investing in Amazon. For every Amazon there are a thousand Loser-zons where the investors get nothing back but an “I’m sorry, we failed” thank you note.

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