Elon’s X explodes after launch

An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded in a couple of minutes after lift-off from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, dealing a body blow to Elon Musk’s fast charging space exploration company.

This was the third mission to resupply the space station to be lost in recent months, as the gleaming white rocket along with the Dragon cargo ship it was transporting disintegrated in a large puff of smoke in the clear sunny skies over Florida. This was the seventh mission by SpaceX to resupply the International Space Centre and their first failure. The three failures from three different transport providers seem to underline the difficulties and engineering challenges of getting things out of the Earth’s atmosphere.

A very expensive puff of smoke.

Musk, who is of course SpaceX’s founder, tweeted that “there was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.” He added: “That’s all we can say with confidence right now. Will have more to say following a thorough analysis.”

As the Falcon 9 started to rise off the launch pad, everything seemed fine until two minutes and nineteen seconds into the flight when the 4,000 pounds of food and supplies, and a number of kids’ science experiments, ceased to exist.

Last October, an Orbital Antara Rocket failed to make it to the space station and then a Russian Progress 59 spun out of control after having managed to make it into orbit. The two earlier mishaps had put a lot of pressure on Space X to deliver a successful flight and is now raising questions about NASA’s decision to retire the Shuttle programme and outsource cargo resupply missions.

“We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station,” NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, said in a statement. “However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo programme was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles.”

Of course one of the aims of the likes of SpaceX and other space entrepreneurs – like Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic – is to provide affordable space travel and tourism. For our money, the launch vehicles have got to become a lot more reliable before we will be joining the queue for a ticket.

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