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SpaceX finally offers new details surrounding the bizarre Crew Dragon explosion

Published May 3rd, 2019 6:54PM EDT
crew dragon update
Image: NASA

It’s been well over a week since news first broke of a serious malfunction with SpaceX’s hotly anticipated Crew Dragon capsule. The spacecraft self-destructed during testing, and blurry video allegedly showing the failed test ending in an explosion drew a lot of attention. SpaceX chose to remain largely silent on the matter, describing it as an “anomaly” and leaving it at that.

When you’re building machines designed to take astronauts into space, and one of those machines explodes, people are going to want as much information as possible, and SpaceX just now broke its silence to offer a few more details on what may have gone wrong.

As Spaceflight Now reports, SpaceX’s Hans Koenigsmann, VP of build and flight reliability, provided the additional information during a press briefing at Kennedy Space Center.

“At the test stand, we powered up Dragon, it powered up as expected,” Koenigsmann explained. “We completed tests with the Draco (maneuvering) thrusters, the smaller thrusters that are also on the cargo Dragon. We fired them in two sets, each for five seconds, and that went very well. And then just before we wanted to fire the SuperDraco, there was an anomaly, and the vehicle was destroyed. There were no injuries. SpaceX had taken all safety measures prior to this test as we always do.”

The SpaceX-designed SuperDraco rockets are part of the Crew Dragon’s launch escape system which is meant to push the crew capsule out and away from a rocket if a launch abort is triggered during flight. It’s a potentially life-saving system that absolutely has to work flawlessly in order for NASA to trust the hardware to carry its astronauts, and in this case it appears to have prompted the total destruction of spacecraft itself.

It sounds pretty scary, but as NASA’s Jim Bridenstine succinctly put it in the hours following the failture, “This is why we test.” NASA isn’t going to let its explorers aboard the Crew Dragon until it’s certain of its safety, but SpaceX has proven itself entirely capable of fixing shortcomings so we wouldn’t expect this “anomaly” to be more than a small bump in the road.