Starship 4th Test Flight

Wow. What a flight! David Strom hits things on the head here, and I very much agree with his close: Elon Musk is a figure out of Heinlein. Love him or loathe him, he is making indelible changes on the world. From my viewpoint, most of those are good. Especially when it comes to getting us off this mudball.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to know and spend time with some interesting people, and to have done work for NASA twice. Today showed me several things I’ve been told were impossible, but I just watched them play out in realtime.

More years ago than I care to think about, Jerry and Roberta Pournelle took a callow young science writer under their wings. This led not only to interesting dinners but inclusion on several discussions of science and technology, often centering on spaceflight and heading out from Earth. Some discussions of such may have been a bit spirited, but it is interesting how they often led to investigation, experimentation, and change.

While my memory is not what I would like, I do seem to remember that Jerry was somewhat strongly of the opinion that landing rockets upright/vertical a la Golden Age science fiction was impossible. I’ve been watching SpaceX stick vertical landings on droneships for a while now and smiling. To be honest, think Jerry would be delighted at being wrong and seeing what is going on.

I’ve heard similar, but not nearly as spirited (and innovative) discussions at NASA at time or two. Then again, far too many there were wedded to the long, slow, expensive process at NASA. NASA is not only risk averse, but anything that smacked even slightly of failure was something never to be done again. NASA did not fail, it only succeeded — at great cost, lots of time, and one-off hardware. What Elon and SpaceX are doing is the best way to do real development: speculate, build, test, refine, test, refine, test, and then move out. Doing that is almost guaranteed to cut your development timeline by two thirds if not more.

Now, let’s look at all the pretty pictures, and even more importantly the massive amounts of data, that we got during reentry. Let me repeat that: DURING REENTRY. Another thing I was told at various times was impossible, beyond technical capabilities, etc. Never happen. Heh. Right. All made possible via Starlink and innovative thinking. If you think Elon’s companies aren’t meant to work together… I have suspicions about The Boring Company, which is anything but boring…

Now, when it comes to burnthrough the conventional wisdom was that pretty much any burnthrough was a catastrophic event. Even a pinprick spelled doom for a craft, and the idea that any external component or system that experienced such could function afterwards was nonsense! Nonsense I tell you Sir! Cough. Guess what I watched today? Heck, they invited some burnthrough by deliberately leaving off some tiles and putting sensors and such there because that data was needed. Not in a critical area, but still…

When the flap began to burn through, I kept expecting to see the rocket tumble and fail. Instead, I saw — even with the damage to the camera — the flap move and operate, and the ship continue to maneuver and function. That was amazing, and again I had been told impossible. I’m beginning to think Elon’s breakfast consists of multiple impossible things each morning.

Perfect mission? No, but an amazing success anyway. Right now, looks like they hit all the major goals, including getting massive amounts of data so they can improve and try again. In fact, a surface reading indicates that nothing that did go wrong requires the FAA to investigate and delay work on the next TEST flight according to the paperwork. That said, the Biden Regency hates Musk and has been trying to throw wrenches into the gears as they can, so I really do expect them to try to find a way to do so now. The offset to that is that the military and the Intelligence Community are now both having to back Elon given their dependence on SpaceX for reliable and cost-effective launches. That may reduce the interference. We can but hope.

As I’ve said before: Earth is the cradle of humanity, but crib death is still a thing and we need to be out on as many worlds — large and small — as we can as fast as we can. Even if not for survival per se, it is also a good idea for political survival. See Kotani and Robert’s Island World/Act of God series for the latter.

Right now, Elon and SpaceX are our best shot at getting that underway. We need them, so keep them in your prayers as there are a lot of people who want them to fail. Heck, need them to fail.

As far as living and working in space full time, think we still have some research to do. Some recent investigations into blood and other issues long-term for those in space raises some concerns. I’ve talked before about the issues with reproduction in space.

Which reminds me, the Chinese investigations underway with fish are a thing to watch. This could provide lots of good data not only on how they do in microgravity. This ties into issues of food in space and reproduction in space, and may be a good step towards ensuring safety on both fronts. I suspect that some gravity is going to be needed, but how much is the question. One that can be easily and fairly quickly answered at need.

That, however, is for the future. Right now, today’s test flight was amazing. Not only visually, but operationally and from the standpoint of gathering data.

Keep doing the impossible Elon and SpaceX! We need this more than most may realize.

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2 thoughts on “Starship 4th Test Flight”

  1. I have not seen it explicitly stated, but obvious to me is that the Boring Company is an R&D project for future work on both the Moon and Mars. Long term colonies on either one will be subsurface both for radiation mitigation and lack of atmosphere/ temperature extremes on the surface.

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