In early September, one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets undergoing testing exploded at Cape Canaveral. Thanks to some grainy video that shows birds flying across it, the internet’s conspiracy theorists shifted to top gear and started accusing aliens (or the US military).
As moon-landing as that might sound, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that investigators have “not ruled out” some kind of flying object — an unidentified flying object, you might say — causing the explosion. Tinfoil hat time, everyone.
Musk took to Twitter very early this morning to mostly complain about things:
Musk asking for crowdfunded help to understand a rocket explosion is a big change, and a bold move when you remember what happened last time Reddit tried to solve a mystery.
The SpaceX boss also handed a freebie to conspiracy theorists when he said they couldn’t out an object causing the explosion:
For now, though, the prevailing theory is that some mechanical component failed while the rocket was being fuelled. A strut snapping or weld breaking could cause sparks and release explosive gases. Combining those two things, according to my many years spent watching Mythbusters, tends to make things go bang.
Solving the mystery of what went wrong will be hugely important for SpaceX. The company has more launches scheduled for the end of the year, but none of those will go ahead until whatever problem caused this explosion can be fixed.
An object hitting the rocket isn’t totally impossible, but the videos showing flying objects around the rocket have been thoroughly debunked already. Since rocket launches are filmed from some miles away using a telephoto lens, a bug or a bird flying across the lens much closer to the camera will look suspiciously like a drone or projectile.