You might remember that on September 1, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded on its launchpad in Cape Canaveral during a routine fueling operation, destroying both the rocket and a $200 million communications satellite set to be leased by Facebook, and putting a damper on CEO Elon Musk’s claims of revolutionizing space travel (though thankfully no one was hurt in the explosion of the unmanned rocket).
Since then, SpaceX has worked to figure out what exactly went wrong, and identified … maybe a crazy sabotage plot? A report in The Washington Post describes investigators noticing “an odd shadow, then a white spot on the roof of a nearby building” in video of the explosion. That roof is located more than a mile from the launchpad with “a clear line of sight” to it — and just so happens to belong to the United Launch Alliance. The United Launch Alliance is a partnership venture between SpaceX rivals Boeing and Lockheed Martin. You see where this is going.
“We’ve eliminated all of the obvious possibilities for what occurred there,” Musk said last week. “So what remains are the less probable answers.”
Did a sniper take out the SpaceX rocket? I don’t know! But let’s take a moment to stroll through this unexpected line of Cold War possibility and consider some of those less probable answers and prospective saboteurs. Join me, friends, on this journey into the land of conspiracy.
(Obviously all parties mentioned below are extremely innocent and upstanding and good-looking individuals/organizations who would never hire a sniper to embarrass Elon Musk, never ever ever ever, they wouldn’t even know how to, not even if someone dropped off the sniper yellow pages on their front doorstep, please don’t sue me, thank you, I love you.)
Boeing and Lockheed Martin
The obvious suspect: the competitors. Since the dawn of time, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have converted government-contract dollars into rockets and planes and assorted gizmos in an almost comically lucrative duopoly. SpaceX had to sue the Air Force in 2014 for the right to compete against the aerospace giants for contracts, and has lately started to win them: SpaceX has begun delivering cargo loads to the International Space Station, and is planning manned flights. More pie for Elon Musk means less for Boeing and Lockheed.
The Post reports that a SpaceX employee requested access to the ULA rooftop in the weeks after the explosion and was denied. Air Force investigators later checked out the roof of the ULA building, and “found nothing suspicious.” You know, other than a clear line of sight and billions of dollars on the line.
Since NASA discontinued its manned spaceflight program in 2011, it has had to purchase flights on Russian Soyuz capsules. SpaceX developing its own manned program would bring an end to this. And, I dunno, old habits die hard. Let’s be honest: It is usually the Russians.
Who’s got two thumbs, untold billions, and a rival rocket company?
Oh, you think rockets are easy, Elon? You think anybody can just build a rocket ship and send it into outer space? You think it’s OK to go around telling everybody that American spaceflight has stalled out? You think that just because NASA isn’t sending people into space anymore that all its hopes and dreams have just gone away? That NASA is asleep at the wheel, buddy? Sure, NASA helped finance the Falcon 9 — but some things are worth fighting for.
“Johnny Depp’s estranged wife Amber Heard and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk ‘are not dating and have been friends for years.’” Johnny Depp’s estranged wife Amber Heard and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk “are not having long, candle-lit dinners and discussing the recent dissolutions of their respective marriages over bottles of rare vintages of South African Bordeaux, Johnny Depp’s estranged wife Amber Heard’s favorite.” Johnny Depp’s estranged wife Amber Heard and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk “are definitely not having sex right this second on a sustainable lion pelt — it died of natural causes; lion cancer actually, very sad — on the floor of a French chateau that SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk just sold today, the day he put it on the market, because he accurately gauged market interest.” Johnny Depp’s estranged wife Amber Heard and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk “are not taking turns wearing one of Johnny Depp’s fedoras and laughing so hard their thighs shake, which they know because they are naked, because Johnny Depp’s estranged wife Amber Heard and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk just had sex on a lion pelt.”
This video — ”SpaceX UFO Explosion — Slow Motion!” — has 1.2 million views.
An old grudge from Thiel and Musk’s PayPal days? Unease with a splashy Mars program angled at taking young earthlings and their life forces off the planet? Lingering bitterness about the waterworld that wasn’t? A years-long plot for high-stakes, wildly expensive, publicity-maximized failure? I’m just asking questions.
OK, hear me out: Maybe Zuckerberg destroyed his own satellite. I know! I know. This is crazy. It’s totally crazy. But here we are, most of the way down a list of conspiracy theories. So: Onboard the Falcon 9 was a satellite owned by Israel’s Spacecom; Facebook was set to lease bandwidth to help provide wireless connectivity across Africa as part of the company’s Internet.org initiative. Zuckerberg reacted to the loss with an unusually (for him) emotional post, writing that he was “deeply disappointed.”
But doesn’t he seem a little … too sad? Like, OK, maybe he’s sad that millions of dollars and years of hard work went down the fiery drain — or maybe he never wanted that thing in orbit anyway. Maybe he wanted out of Facebook’s $95 million deal with Spacecom. Maybe he hates the internet, and hopes they never get it in still-unconnected zones of Africa. Maybe he is filled with remorse for turning us all into phone zombies, and is protecting the innocents of the world the only way he can. Maybe it was actually Xinwei trying to get out of its deal to buy Spacecom.
I don’t know. What I do know is that shortly after his purported heartbreak, Zuck was rejoicing over baby giraffes.
Or maybe the Falcon 9 just malfunctioned. Who can say?