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SpaceX’s Explosive Road to Reuse

Posted on September 20th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

SpaceX Falcon 9 First Stage

Image (crop from original) by SpaceX [Content on YouTube] via YouTube

Despite engineers at SpaceX having many innovation firsts to share, the millions of viewers of their latest video proves sharing what not to do can be as just valuable and entertaining.

I’ve never met an engineer who wasn’t equally as captivated with their failures as they were with their successes. Gathering around the water cooler, regaled stories are more often than not about how programs or tests went horribly wrong. Each inevitably concludes with some lesson learned or takeaway that will preclude the occurrence from ever happening again.

Engineers also understand there is credibility in humility. Even with all the advanced technology, finite element analysis, numerical computational methods, or 3D simulations, all models are approximations and subject to the physics and randomness of the real world. So when your digital analysis is accurate to six decimal places – but wrong because the assumptions are incomplete, humor can be the best medicine.

The engineers at SpaceX appear to have captured hard-learned wisdom while poking fun at themselves in their YouTube compilation on their quest to develop reusable rockets. Much as you would expect to see in formal engineering documentation, captions during the beginning of the video are concise and merely descriptive: “Breaks Apart After Tipping”, “Engine Sensor Failed”, or “Ran Out of Hydraulic Fluid”. These quickly segway to those of a more humorous and insightful nature such as, “Well, technically it did land… Just not in one piece.” My personal favorite: “Look, that’s not an ‘explosion’, it’s just a rapid unscheduled disassembly.” Have a look at the following YouTube video to judge for yourself:

My father used to say, “A journeyman tells you how, but an expert tells you why.” Covering the chronology from September 2013 through April 2016, the video’s chronology never documents the number of tests needed to iron out all the kinks, but I’m sure the engineering team can not explain both the “why” and the “why not” in great detail.

What’s your favorite ‘epic fail’ engineering story? If you had to do it all over again, would you make the same mistakes? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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