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OPINION | GARY SMITH: With SpaceX in charge, it might have been “Houston, we have an opportunity!”

SpaceX deliver’s one small blast for mankind by Gary Smith | April 28, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.

Among my many shortcomings is the reality that I often struggle with definitions.

I'm not sure what an "idiom" is. I tend to get "similes" and "metaphors" mixed up. It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to know which of two things in a sentence is the "former" and which the "latter." You'd have thought the alphabetical order of those words would have been a dead giveaway.

This is something of a concern, given that to some degree I've been stringing words and, by inference, their meanings together and presenting that to people for most of my life. Then again, maybe my writing is like jazz. It doesn't necessarily follow rules or a pattern and likely isn't for everyone.

However, even with that disclaimer firmly in place, I will offer that, apparently, I don't fully understand the meaning of the word "success," specifically as it relates to the recent launch of SpaceX's Starship rocket.

It seems, depending on a lot of factors, the launch of the rocket was either a stirring success or a big giant oopsie. And many of those factors have very little to do with the actual short-lived flight itself.

For those who either don't remember or weren't paying attention (the two camps I'm in most of the time), SpaceX (actually Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Now you can see why they shortened it) is a company that makes and launches rockets. It was founded by Elon Musk, a somewhat quirky billionaire who has, to say the least, been in the news a lot lately.

Pausing here to remember the good old days when billionaires like John Paul Getty seemed to like being referred to as "reclusive."

Recently, SpaceX launched the unmanned Starship, reportedly the most powerful rocket ever built, from its base in Texas. I, for one was hoping for a secret submarine base in the Caribbean, but apparently that's been done. At least in James Bond movies.

The rocket took off and flew for about four minutes, at which point it experienced what SpaceX engineers called a "rapid unscheduled disassembly." For those of us who don't speak Aerospace Engineer or who aren't on the SpaceX payroll, that translates to "it blowed up real good."

Apparently bits of that rapid unscheduled disassembly are still raining down on Texas. Reports also indicate the liftoff wrecked the launchpad and set off car alarms in the surrounding area, which I would assume fall under the heading of "unintended consequences."

Now the Starship launch/unscheduled disassembly appears to have drawn somewhat mixed reviews. For those who are fans of Musk, it was a monumental success. For Musk detractors, well, it blew up. And it took with it lots of money, some of that money from the U.S. citizenry through NASA, which is paying SpaceX to build at least part of our future manned rockets.

We're told having unmanned rockets blow up shortly after launch isn't that unusual in the early stages of their development. However, and realizing astronauts are made of sterner stuff than I, I feel like any of the already-scheduled passengers on Starships might be experiencing thoughts slightly more intense than, "Well, let's hope they get that ironed out."

It's worth noting that Wilbur and Orville Wright's first flight lasted all of 12 seconds, so the big rocket beats that. However, the Wright Brothers' plane didn't experience an unscheduled disassembly that scattered parts all over North Carolina. So I'd say the events are a bit of a draw.

Absent opinions about Musk and trying to be objective here, I wonder if SpaceX might have been better served by better messaging. To whit: "We're really excited and pleased that our initial test launch of the largest rocket ever was a success. And, yes, it blew up. But we sort of thought that might happen, which is why we pointed it out over water. Also, we're sure sorry about the debris. And the car alarms."

If this teaches us anything, it's that few successes are entirely obvious as such or are unmitigated. Of course, not all those mitigations are huge explosions over the Gulf of Mexico. But it's likely a matter of context.

Which means we should all cut the SpaceX folks some slack, not get up in arms or bent out of shape about the flight and fail to see the forest for the trees.

Wait, maybe I do understand what idioms are after all.


Print Headline: A roaring success?


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