Mission Failure

SpaceX explosion


In June, SpaceX—a private company charged with ferrying goods (and eventually people) to the International Space Station—experienced its first major setback in seven years when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a mission to deliver 4,000 pounds of supplies. The company's early analysis of the milliseconds leading up to the explosion, which happened shortly after launch from Cape Canaveral, pointed to the failure of a steel strut designed to support a canister of helium, but a more thorough investigation is ongoing.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called the explosion "a huge blow" for the company, but NASA's Bill Gerstenmaier told Popular Science that SpaceX is still on track to deliver astronauts to the space station by 2017. "We'll learn from these events," said Gerstenmaier, "and we'll get stronger."

In comments to press after the explosion, Musk noted that the Dragon capsule, where the goods were stored and where the people will ride during manned missions, was unharmed and could have been saved if parachutes had been programmed to deploy. Musk said he would add that capability to SpaceX's next generation capsule, Dragon 2.

The company has already completed six missions out of a projected 12 as part of a $1.6 billion deal with NASA.