Marketing SpaceX

SpaceX explosion is a reminder of how closely every success walks the line of failure

By Bobak Ferdowsi, systems engineer

September 2, 2016 | 3 min read

News of an explosion during a SpaceX rocket test was reported all around the world with incredible video footage being shared online. What does such an incident mean for the reputation and image of the audacious technology company being run by entrepreneur Elon Musk now? Nasa engineer Bobak Ferdowsi shared these thoughts.

SpaceX explosion

SpaceX explosion

This video is a heartbreaking, but good reminder of how incredibly difficult space exploration is, and how closely every success walks the line of failure. As we're fond of saying here, there is only one way for a spacecraft to work successfully, but millions of ways for it to fail.

The explosion at 1:10 (and seconds later the sound), followed by the fairing falling to Earth evokes such a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.

But a few thoughts -

SpaceX is an incredible company and full of talented and hard-working people. They've done really great work in a very short time, and seem to excel at understanding the challenges and issues and quickly addressing them, whether the problem resulted from the rocket or from a ground process. To be clear, there's often more to be learned from these issues than with success (and often complacency).

The history of rockets is full of failures at various stages of development. SpaceX is no exception except that they've had a lot of success in a short time, and perhaps with much more visibility than rocket makers in the past.

Last but not least, space exploration is incredibly rewarding in part because of what it takes to get it right. People invest careers and decades getting things to work just right, and trying to make the thousands of parts and millions of lines of code work together just perfectly to change our understanding of the universe and the way we live. And though that's not just true for space, the setbacks are often far more visible.

Bobak Ferdowsi is a systems engineer at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has graciously allowed The Drum to reprint his comments made on his own Facebook page.

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