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After a SpaceX rocket exploded on a Cape Canaveral launch pad in 2016, the company considered the possibility that a malicious rifle shot was the cause.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tells the story in a forthcoming book, “The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos.” The Washington Post published an excerpt of the book Monday.
Early indications were that something caused an upper-stage helium bottle to explode. SpaceX tried to replicate the explosion at the SpaceX test site in McGregor, Texas. After having trouble blowing the bottles up, they tried a rifle and got the same forensic signature as the bottle recovered after the explosion.
“We literally thought someone had shot the rocket,” Musk said in an interview for the book. “We found things that looked like bullet holes, and we calculated that someone with a high-powered rifle, if they had shot the rocket in the right location, the exact same thing would have happened.”
Ultimately, SpaceX concluded there was a problem with a pressure vessel in the second-stage liquid oxygen tank. An FAA investigation ruled out sabotage.
“It was a self-inflicted wound,” Musk said in the interview. “It took us a long time, but we were able to re-create the failure.”
The book’s author Christian Davenport is a staff writer at the Washington Post covering the space and defense industries for the financial desk. The book will be released March 20.