I tuned in to watch the launch of the SpaceX Starship SN8. The commentators gave a tight rundown of everything happening at ground zero–is that the right term? Ground zero? Everything was exhilarating to them, from condensation rings on the fuel tanks to the stillness around the launch pad. At long last, sirens wailed, signaling the official countdown had begun. You could hear the giddiness in their voices. I didn’t understand any of it, but I was curious, so I kept watching.
The computer system aborted the mission with 1.3 seconds to go. Seconds. That barely qualifies for the plural.
The disappointment was tempered with relief; the mission would live to see another day. Maybe tomorrow. Better safe than sorry.
That I understood.
I live most of my life on the “better safe than sorry” path. It’s an easy one to travel; well-lit, fewer bumps, eventually you get so good at it you can set the cruise control and enjoy your time watching the world go by… inch by painful inch. I won’t bore you with the details; I’m a white woman of a certain age from the middle of Ohio–use your imagination.
I had every intention of tuning back in to watch the next attempted launch. Of course, I missed it. I didn’t know the Starship had launched until I saw it had landed.
“Landed” isn’t quite the word. Behold…
I thought it was a joke. I checked sources and did a quick search of my own, but it was true. It had exploded upon returning to Earth. I’m not a rocket scientist, so allow me to explain what happened as I understand it;
Ship + Earth(Fuel + Speed)= Fire(BOOM)ka
Elon Musk used another word, “success.”
Wait. Success? I sat thinking, “Poor Elon!” (not words you often see together, I know), and worrying about the loss of money and time and–Oh, dear, there wasn’t a loss of life, was there?
Negligible, not really, and no.
Elon didn’t call it a failure. He didn’t even call it an explosion. I gotta admit– “rapid unscheduled disassembly” does sound much better. Instead, Elon was ecstatic. In a tweet immediately following the fireball, he explained everything had gone according to plan, right up until it didn’t. Everything worked well, they got the data they were looking for, and it was perfect–except for the whole hard landing business.
He wanted to see if his idea was possible. That’s it–can it be done? Turns out—it could.
I’ve been so afraid of failing this experiment I’ve been living for the past year, afraid I’m going to end up nose-diving into one final, breathtaking, glorious inferno. Blazing mayhem. White-hot I-told-you-so’s. Maybe I’m terrified of failure because I have the wrong definition of success.
I want to wax poetic about the future being clearer once the smoke dies or the path to victory being lit with the glowing embers of failure. But I won’t. I will do a TL/DR paraphrase and say, “Shit happens. Sometimes it explodes. Learn and move on.”
Because that’s what I took away; Sometimes you soar, and sometimes you rapidly and unexpectedly disassemble. The key is to enjoy the kaboom, then gather the data and move on.