SpaceX managed to get its Starship spacecraft, the most powerful rocket ever built, off the launchpad at its South Texas testing facilities.
But getting it into orbit proved to be far more difficult, with the 400-foot rocket and booster stack tumbling hopelessly through the air minutes after launch, before ending in a massive fireball.
Starship didn’t separate as planned, started tumbling and was lost at 4mins after liftoff. Not yet clear if explosion was a manual termination command, since the rocket was showing signs of failure pic.twitter.com/OFtvNIs6Rj
— Joey Roulette (@joroulette) April 20, 2023
While that kind of early demise should be expected from SpaceX, a company that has blown up countless prototypes over the last couple of years, it's hard not to ignore the very particular date that it chose for Starship's first orbital attempt.
That's right: it was April 20, a date imbued with meaning for CEO Elon Musk. As such, it's hard not to wonder whether the mercurial leader pushed SpaceX to launch the rocket on a meme date before it was fully ready? Did his childish obsession with the date lead to the explosion?
It's pure speculation, but not terribly far-fetched. After all, this is a guy who bought Twitter and then slapped a shiba inu on its home page due to an ancient meme — and, for that matter, covered up the "W" on the company's headquarters to make yet another crude joke.
Musk's obsession with the date, which stoners celebrate around the world, goes way back. In a fateful 2018 tweet, Musk claimed that he was "considering taking Tesla private at $420," which eventually led to several lawsuits and endless drama with investors and regulators.
He even managed to squeeze the three digits into his disastrous bid to buy Twitter last year.
Even Starship's development hasn't been spared, with the company stacking its Super Heavy Booster prototype dubbed Booster 4 on top of its Starship prototype dubbed Ship 20, the first time the two were mated to form a 400-foot tower of stainless steel.
The company even placed two Raptor engines next to each other while building a preceding Super Heavy booster prototype, lining up engine "RB4" right next to "RB20."
Musk's infatuation with the number clearly runs deep — which makes us wonder: did he force SpaceX employees to rush ahead and have the first orbital launch attempt fall on that date?
Circumstantially, it feels plausible. Just days ago, insiders at the company were saying that a 4/20 launch was impossible.
But with the boss relentlessly pushing the tired joke, it's not hard to imagine that voices of caution within the company could have been pushed ahead to make the date.
Of course, plenty of other factors likely went into the decision as well, like the Federal Aviation Administration granting the company a launch license last week. A first launch attempt on Monday, which was scrubbed due to a frozen valve, took place several days before April 20 as well.
But we still wouldn't put it past the billionaire CEO. It certainly wouldn't be the first time he's screwed up over feeble attempts at humor — which, unfortunately for him, just don't seem to be getting many laughs.
More on the launch: Starship Launches First Orbital Attempt, Explodes in Epic Fireball