Elon Musk’s ambitions of landing on Mars rest on a 394-foot-high rocket that currently sits in the open air in Boca Chica, Texas. Two weeks ago, Musk’s hopes nearly came crashing down in an incident that caused employees to question whether the world’s most important rocket company was moving too fast.
A day after technicians had “fully stacked” the rocket, loading one part of it on top of another into the form it will take when it one day blasts into orbit, an incident occurred that could have caused one section to cave in, according to two people briefed on the events.
Some of the crew were involved in venting gas out of the rocket, which caused pressure within the rocket to drop, something that risks crumpling it like a soda can. At the time, the rocket was filled with liquid oxygen, a propellant so cold it could kill a human on contact, the people said. If the rocket had collapsed, a leak of the liquid oxygen could have hurt the roughly two dozen crew members working nearby. Running the operation without clearing the area violated protocol, said current and former SpaceX employees and industry experts.