August 4, 2015
On June 28th, 2015 SpaceX rocket Falcon 9 took off from Cape Canaveral on route to the International Space Station. About 2:20 into its flight, it exploded. Thankfully there were no humans aboard, but the cargo and food meant to supply the space station were destroyed along with the rocket itself.
The company recently gained a certification to fly national security missions, including flying military and intelligence satellites into space. However, in light of the recent explosion, several members of Congress are questioning whether SpaceX should be allowed to continue these missions.
SpaceX has launched an investigation into the explosion, but several members of Congress have recently questioned the “rigor” of their investigation. As reported in the Washington Post, fourteen lawmakers (led by Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Randy Forbes (R-Va.)) wrote a letter to NASA about their “serious reservations” about the SpaceX led investigation and stated that they “are concerned whether the investigation and engineering rigor will be applied will be sufficient to prevent future mishaps.”
Since there were no human casualties and no outside property damage, the task of investigating the incident falls to the launch provider rather than to a government agency such as the National Transportation Safety Board.
SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, is considered one of the most ambitious, and borderline obsessive entrepreneurs in the world. So it should surprise no one that they took the investigation into the explosion very seriously. In fact, they already believe they found the cause. According to the Washington Post article, Musk had recently addressed a group of reporters and said “the investigation into the SpaceX explosion was exhaustive” and that preliminary findings suggested a steel strut–two feet long and one-inch at its thickest point–inside the rockets hull had failed. This caused helium to overpressure an oxygen tank that eventually exploded.
He added said that due to a string of successful flights, the company may have become “complacent,” saying that “The vast majority of the people at the company today have only ever seen success. You don’t fear failure quite as much.”
The explosion came just a few months after another failed mission by an Orbital ATK rocket.
Image Credit: Flickr/Bill Dickinson
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