"Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly": Image Shows the Moment SpaceX's Starship Rocket Exploded

Despite the explosion, the company is counting its first Starship flight test as a success.

A fiery, smoky explosion in a clear blue Texas sky
SpaceX via Reuters

“Rapid unscheduled disassembly” is the internet’s new favorite way to say “the big rocket blew up.”

SpaceX’s Starship exploded dramatically in midair over the Texas coast on Thursday morning during its first integrated flight test. The “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” as SpaceX’s social media accounts put it, happened just before the Super Heavy first stage would have separated from the rest of the vehicle (to be fair, it did separate, in a way).

It’s unlikely that the Super Heavy will be reused after today’s test flight.

SpaceX via Reuters

Prior to launch, SpaceX had warned observers that it might take several tries to get Starship — a spacecraft meant to carry 100 people or 100 tons of cargo into space and ultimately intended to carry CEO Elon Musk’s dreams of a Mars colony — into orbit.

Following a few short delays, the world’s largest rocket — it stands 400 feet tall and packs about 17 million pounds of thrust — blasted off from SpaceX’s launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, early Tuesday morning. Moments later, the rocket had cleared “Max Q,” the point in the flight where the rocket experiences maximum mechanical stress. Things looked nominal — until they weren’t.

Four minutes into the flight, right on schedule, the rocket started the rotation that was supposed to separate the Super Heavy booster from the Starship vehicle. The rocket was meant to land on a ship in the Gulf, which is pretty standard SpaceX fare these days, while Starship would have gone on to a powered belly landing in the water off Hawai’i.

But instead of separating, the whole rocket kept turning cartwheels in midair, while a commentator declared calmly that “everything after clearing the launch tower is icing on the cake.” Then the whole thing blew up.

Below, SpaceX employees popped bottles of champagne while the crowd cheered. Read more on the test flight and the Starship rocket here.

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