On Thursday, one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets went up in a blaze of flames, taking its satellite payload right along with it. But it wasn't an explosion, says company founder Elon Musk. Instead, what we saw was just a really fast fire. Image: YouTube / US Launch Report
Musk took to Twitter to note the difference:
@scrappydog yes. This seems instant from a human perspective, but it really a fast fire, not an explosion. Dragon would have been fine.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 1, 2016
Musk believes that the SpaceX Dragon capsule's escape pod would have been hardy enough to survive that same huge blaze. SpaceX has been testing the escape pod as a safety feature for its crew-carrying missions, like the one it plans to Mars. In the event of a launch failure, SpaceX says it could eject the crew in a way that is "similar to an ejection seat for a fighter pilot", except they would be protected by a pod.
The company has managed to come back from an exploded ISS launch (with the full cargo inside) to become a key supplier for NASA's cargo runs. And its road to landing a rocket on a barge was littered with crashes and explosions before it start reliably landing them.
SpaceX had already started testing how the capsule handles a jettison. Now it sounds like it's also looking at data from yesterday's fire to figure out how the capsule needs to work to protect the crew. Whatever yesterday's blaze was, in the end it might mean a safer rocket.