Hard to believe it’s been 35 years since we lost the Space Shuttle Challenger and her seven-member crew, in what turned out to have been a tragically avoidable accident. Challenger commission member Richard Feynman’s finding that the SRB O-rings’ lack of resiliency at low temperatures was known and raised as a concern by technicians, but not acted upon, gives us a hard-won lesson to remember. It’s a lesson that SpaceX seems to have internalized, in the form of Elon Musk’s reported insistence that any SpaceX employee at any level should be empowered to directly raise concerns that could delay a launch, and I hope others in the space industry have taken that same lesson to heart. Space is an inherently dangerous business, and there’s no need to make it artificially more dangerous by adding avoidable organizational problems to the mix.
Bill Whittle pointed out on last night’s Stratosphere Lounge that the anniversaries of the Apollo 1 cabin fire (January 27th, 1967), Challenger explosion (January 28th, 1986), and Columbia‘s disintegration (February 1st, 2003), which account for all NASA spaceflight fatalities, all happen to fall in a 10-day span on the calendar. I feel a debt to and tremendous admiration for those who knew the risks and went anyway, putting their lives on the line to advance the frontier of human knowledge, exploration, and achievement. Bill Whittle’s magnificent 2003 essay “Courage” (copy here) is about the most beautiful, poetic, and outright exhilarating piece I’ve ever had the privilege of reading about why we do such things. Take a few moments and give it a worthwhile read.
Yesterday (Monday the 25th) was out due to ~30mph winds, and today looks pretty miserably overcast so far, but there seems to be some hope and intention of Starship SN9 doing a 12.5km test-flight sometime this week. LabPadre’s “Nerdle Cam” remains a good place to check in on things. This is expected to be a retry of December’s SN8 launch, controlled free-fall, and landing attempt, with remedies for SN8’s tank under-pressure hopefully lending the possibility of a successful landing this time. I’m greatly looking forward to the attempt!
UPDATE: Looks like today’s (Tuesday) entertainment was a tank pressure test, which SN9 passed, according to Elon Musk. Also per Elon, completion of an FAA review appears to be one of the necessary conditions the SN9 flight test is now waiting on.
Wednesday launch attempt appears unlikely, given lack of scheduled road closures, and winds gusting up to 38mph. Thursday or Friday attempt, perhaps?
In the wake of the tremendously exciting SN8 test last month, Starship SN9 is on the pad and it’s looking like we may see a static fire test as early as today (LabPadre’s Launch Pad Cam has live coverage) and a 12.5km altitude test and landing attempt, with that launch possibly as early as Friday.
SN10 meanwhile received its nosecone and is waiting in the wings to be next up, with SN11 also under construction and not that far behind.
SpaceX’s rapid-iteration process has been truly impressive and inspiring to behold, particularly with regard to Starship prototyping and testing. Such a stark contrast to the customarily slow pace of NASA-contractor partnerships. It gives me greatly enjoyed reason to hope that we’ll see successful colonization of other worlds in the near future.
Update: Looks like we got an SN9 test-fire! I wonder if the brief duration was as planned. (This side-by-side comparison seems to indicate comparable duration to SN8 Static Fire #3, so my guess is that all went as intended.) Looking forward to further developments.