SpaceX’s Starship, which Elon Musk touted as “the biggest rocket ever made” at 394 feet tall, exploded into a ball of flames four minutes into its test flight over Boca Chica, Texas, Thursday morning. After “generating a staggering 16 million pounds of thrust,” per CBS, the rocket made it off the launch pad, but barely completed a fraction of what was supposed to be a 90-minute flight.
SpaceX described the explosion in a tweet as “a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation.”
Ever the optimistic CEO in the face of adversity, Musk congratulated his team on the “exciting” launch and tweeted that they “learned a lot” for the next test launch in a few months.
On Sunday, prior to the test flight, he’d tried to keep expectations minimal. “Starship is the biggest rocket ever made,” he told reporters. “It’s over twice the thrust of a Saturn 5, the Saturn 5 moon rocket, which is largest rocket ever to get to orbit, it’s roughly twice the mass. So, we’ve got 33 engines on the booster, we’ve got six engines on the upper stage of the ship. It’s a lot of engines.
“So I guess I would just like to set expectations low. If we get far enough away from the launch pad before something goes wrong, then I think I would consider that to be a success. Just don’t blow up the launch pad.” Inspiring.
SpaceX currently has a $5 billion contract with NASA for 14 “fully operational astronaut missions” through 2030. Some reporters have speculated that SpaceX exists “largely to court government contracts,” despite its CEO running PBS and NPR off Twitter—another venture he owns—by labeling them “government-funded” in an attempt to discredit them. Hopefully future SpaceX missions go better than this one, as there will be actual humans aboard at some point.
Twitter, of course, had a field day with the incident on Thursday.