Starship was conceived to bring people — including NASA astronauts — and cargo such as satellites into Earth’s orbit and beyond. The rocket is more powerful than any previous crewed spacecraft and taller than the Saturn V, which took humans to the moon. The launch vehicle system also had been designed to be fully reusable, which SpaceX promises will reduce costs.
Musk had sought to temper expectations for a perfectly successful launch.
“I would like to just set expectations,” Musk said a day before the first attempt during an audio discussion on Twitter. “We get far enough away from the launchpad before something goes wrong, then I think I would consider that to be a success. Just don’t blow up the launchpad.”
SpaceX livestreamed the launch. Bloomberg News was on the ground in South Padre, Texas, roughly five miles from the launchpad, and followed the latest updates over the course of the launch. All time stamps reflect US East Coast time.
Rocket Explodes (9:40 a.m.)
The Starship rocket exploded in the minutes after liftoff. The company said on the livestream that the Super Heavy booster failed to separate from the Starship rocket, causing a “rapid unscheduled disassembly.” In other words, an explosion.
The company suggested on the livestream that the attempt may still provide valuable information and that simply blasting off could be considered a success.
Starship Blasts Off (9:33 a.m.)
After years of development and numerous delays, Starship finally began its first journey into space. The engines fired up and craft lifted off at approximately 9:33 a.m. Eastern time.
There were no obvious issues in the moments immediately after Starship went aloft, though there are still additional steps before the mission can be deemed a full success.
A Brief Hold (9:31 a.m.)
About 30 seconds to launch in its initial countdown, SpaceX paused the countdown to reassess. It started counting back down at 40 seconds after resolving an issue.
A 4/20 Launch (9:18 a.m.)
It almost feels predetermined that SpaceX would attempt a launch of Starship on Thursday, April 20th, a.k.a. 4/20. Musk has long been obsessed with the date and number, which is associated with smoking marijuana. He was accused of defrauding investors after tweeting he had “funding secured” to take Tesla Inc. private at $420 a share. Testifying in a lawsuit stemming from that claim earlier this year, Musk said “there is some karma around 420,” prompting laughter in the courtroom.
Musk also seemed to will the launch date into existence. As SpaceX readied Starship for its first launch, he tweeted that he predicted the first launch attempt would be close to the “end of third week of April, aka…” When the launch was originally set for April 17, Musk tweeted that he had “a feeling it might get delayed 3 days…” And in a reply to a meme illustrating the possibility of Starship launching on April 20th, Musk wrote that it was “Fate.”
The Scene Outside (9:13 a.m.)
The media are gathered along the shoreline of South Padre island in Texas, roughly five miles (or so, Google tells me) from the Starbase launchpad. When we were here on Monday, it was a truly beautiful viewing location; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the waves were lapping the shore in front of us.
Today is a bit different. There are clouds in the sky and it’s quite humid, but it’s cleared up a bit as the launch time’s approached.