SpaceX Starship’s third flight was not only a success, it was awesome

The recent third test launch of the SpaceX Starship was not only noted for the successful milestones it achieved but also its awe-inspiring effect on people who observed it, either remotely via live streaming or in person, at the Star Base facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

The Starship launch was impressive enough. Of all the things created by humans, a rocket heading for space is among the most spectacular. The Starship, the largest, heavier-than-air object ever to fly, most of all.

This time, though, the Starship made it into space. A camera aboard the spacecraft transmitted video via the SpaceX Starlink system of its journey halfway around the world. The world even got to see the Starship re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, super-hot plasma enveloping it, until the transmission ended high above the Indian Ocean.

The third test met a lot of milestones. However, because the Super Heavy first stage exploded over the Gulf of Mexico and the Starship disintegrated before it could splash down, the FAA has judged that the test ended in a mishap. The government will guide SpaceX through another investigation. Elon Musk’s launch company must satisfy the regulators before authorizing a fourth test launch.

One hopes that the authorization will be made with all due speed. NASA hopes to land people on the moon by late 2026 and that deadline will be upon us sooner than many think. Fortunately, indications are that test four might happen in early May.

The Starship’s third test was a success not because it met all of its objectives but because it advanced the day when the largest rocket ship that has ever flown will change the face of space travel forever. The fourth test flight will likely meet more objectives, as well the fifth and the sixth and so on. Soon, Starship launches will be no more newsworthy than launches of the current SpaceX rocket, the Falcon 9. What the greatest rocket ever built will enable is another matter.

Starship’s awe-inspiring capacity is without dispute. Referring to the entire history of Elon Musk’s commercial space company, Ars Technica senior space editor Eric Berger noted that, “These SpaceX moments feel like a portal opening into the future. That is their power.” 

In a commentary for this publication, author Jimmy Soni said, “Starship’s triumph is a resounding affirmation of the unconquerable American spirit of space innovation.”

The new commercial space age, especially the Starship test flights, has inspired the advent of independent video journalists covering launches. In times past, staid, serious journalists such as CBS News’s Walter Cronkite brought news of moon landings to hundreds of millions of TV screens around the world. Now, young, brash video reporters, beholden to no news organization, are bringing the images of space launches with their commentary to computer screens across the planet.

Eliana Sherrif, who goes by the name of Ellie in Space, and Tim Dodd, who calls himself the Everyday Astronaut, are two successful new space-age video journalists. They are doing everything that network news reporters have traditionally done. Beyond live coverage of rocket launches, stories such as Sherrif’s recent ride on a microgravity Vomit Comet or the Dodd’s announcement of his inclusion in an upcoming privately funded Starship flight around the moon.

After the Starship’s third test flight, Sherrif produced a 23-minute video of impressions and expectations of the event that included conversations with Dodd. As an informative documentary of a historic event, its quality measures up to anything produced by a TV network or a studio with millions of dollars of resources. As a window into the enthusiasm with the “Artemis Generation,” so-called by former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, views the Starship and how it promises to advance space exploration, it is priceless.

The Starship, for what it is doing and what it promises to do, is an awesome vehicle. That is true whether a person is old enough to remember the Apollo 11 moon landing or if someone like Sheriff, Dodd, Berger, Soni, and, indeed, Bridenstine and Musk, were born and came of age after that event.

We are not going back to the moon and on to Mars out of a fit of nostalgia for a glorious past. We are doing those things to make a more glorious future, better than the present. The Starship promises to make that future possible.

Mark R. Whittington, who writes frequently about space policy, has published a political study of space exploration entitled “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond,” and, most recently, “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” 

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