Musk’s Long Road to Mars: How Poor Planning Dogged the Development of SpaceX RocketRead Now

An earlier version of the Starship and the Super Heavy booster stacked at the South Texas Starbase facility on February 10, 2022. Photo by Getty Images.
Oct. 27, 2022 11:00 AM PDT

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.

Get access to exclusive coverage
Read deeply reported stories from the largest newsroom in tech.
Latest Articles
 
The Briefing microsoft enterprise
Microsoft Might Keep Losing in Search and Still Win
Satya Nadella. Photo by Bloomberg.
Could Microsoft win even if it loses in the next chapter of internet search? That was the question running through my head at an event in Redmond, Wash., earlier today, where Microsoft confirmed reporting from The Information and others when it announced it will remake its Bing search engine using artificial intelligence technology from OpenAI.     The new and improved...
Latest Briefs
 
Goldman Sachs Asset Management Closes $5.2 Billion Growth Fund
Twitter’s Head of Revenue Strategy & Operations Departs
Meta Beginning Effort to Trim Managerial Ranks
Stay in the know
Receive a summary of the day's top tech news—distilled into one email.
Access on the go
View stories on our mobile app and tune into our weekly podcast.
Join live video Q&A’s
Deep-dive into topics like startups and autonomous vehicles with our top reporters and other executives.
Enjoy a clutter-free experience
Read without any banner ads.
The supplement stacks of 11 founders and investors. Photos courtesy of subjects.
The Big Read culture
The Supplement Stacks: All the Pills, Powders and Potions Filling Tech’s Kitchen Counters
When Courtney Reum wakes up in his Los Angeles home, it’s time to freeze, shake and dangle upside down.
Verily headquarters in San Francisco. Photo by AP.
Exclusive google
Revenues Rise at Alphabet’s Biggest ‘Other Bet’ But So Do Losses
Verily, by far the biggest Alphabet unit by revenue after Google, continues to post heavy losses, according to previously undisclosed financial information.
Art by Clark Miller.
The 1:1 google
‘We Just Have to Keep Winning’: A Sonos Executive With a Colorful History Goes to War Against Google
A few months into his job as chief legal officer of Sonos, Eddie Lazarus was ready to wage war. When Lazarus joined the audio hardware company in late 2018, it was facing growing competition from tech giants like Amazon and Google.
Photos via Adept Labs, Edmund Hillary Fellowship, Gantry ML, KIT Gründerschmiede, Sci Founders, Shutterstock, Stanford University, University of Central Florida, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley and YouTube.
Exclusive ai
OpenAI Is Making Headlines. It’s Also Seeding Talent Across Silicon Valley
OpenAI has just 375 full-time employees, but its buzzy chatbot, ChatGPT, is shaking up Silicon Valley.
Illustration by Clark Miller.
Opinion startups
Stop Paying People So Much
Every startup leadership team wrestles with the trade-offs between growth and profitability. This is fitting and ever shall be.
John and Patrick Collison. Photos by Bloomberg.
markets startups
Stripe Walks Tightrope to Stay Private. Could Other Firms Follow?
Thirteen years after starting Stripe, chief executive Patrick Collison is raising his company’s largest ever slug of cash from venture capitalists.