The SpaceX Starship Exploded, but Many Claim It Was a Success


Apr. 21 2023, Published 10:16 a.m. ET

April 20, 2023, was a fairly momentous day for Elon Musk. In addition to removing the blue checkmarks from all legacy Twitter accounts that still had them, news also broke that a rocket from Elon's company SpaceX launched and exploded in midair.

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Although common sense would suggest that you don't actually want rockets to blow up, SpaceX claims that the rocket launch was a major win, and many experts agree. Regardless of whether the launch was a success or not, though, it would be natural to wonder why Starship exploded. Here's what we know.

Why did the SpaceX Starship explode?

SpaceX's Starship launched as expected at 9:30 a.m. on April 20 from SpaceX's launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas. About four minutes into its flight, when it was approximately 24 miles in the air, the rocket tumbled and seemed to turn sideways before exploding. SpaceX has described the explosion as a "spontaneous disassembly," but whatever you call it, the rocket definitely no longer exists in a unified state.

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The problems with the spacecraft appear to have taken place when the SpaceX engineers tried to cut off the main engines and attempt separation, a process that would have allowed the vehicle to leave the atmosphere. What exactly went wrong during that phase remains unclear, and that's part of what SpaceX's engineers will be investigating as they prepare to try again.

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SpaceX sees the failed launch as a victory.

Despite the explosion, The Washington Post reported that both SpaceX and some outside observers saw the launch as a win. Starship, which has been described as the biggest spacecraft ever assembled, is also one of the most complex.

Many experts were also quick to point out that the successes of the space program have also come with plenty of failures, and it's the failures that engineers can often learn from the most.

“It is too soon to speculate what happened there,” Margaret Weitekamp, the chair of the space history department at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, told The Washington Post. “Engineers learn a lot from failure, and that’s a part of the engineering process. And having a ‘failure’ at that point still meant that this was a flight that had a number of things go really right.”

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The Starship explosion got plenty of flack on social media.

Although experts and those in the media treated the launch as a modest success, those online were much less forgiving. Shortly after Starship exploded, Roman Roy, the fictional character from Succession who oversaw a failed space launch, began trending on Twitter.

Of course, under ordinary circumstances, a rocket exploding wouldn't be a reason for celebration. Since Elon isn't very popular right now, especially on Twitter, people will take almost any excuse they can to dunk on both him and his companies. So, while the engineers try to figure out what went wrong with Starship, Elon will continue getting dunked on by all the users of the website he owns.

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