Message from Elon Musk

By Phil Plait | August 3, 2008 3:00 pm

I still have no info about the failure of the third Falcon 1 launch by Space X, but I got an email with Elon Musk’s message, so I thought I’d post it for everyone to see.

Plan Going Forward

It was obviously a big disappointment not to reach orbit on this flight [Falcon 1, Flight 3]. On the plus side, the flight of our first stage, with the new Merlin 1C engine that will be used in Falcon 9, was picture perfect. Unfortunately, a problem occurred with stage separation, causing the stages to be held together. This is under investigation and I will send out a note as soon as we understand exactly what happened.

The most important message I’d like to send right now is that SpaceX will not skip a beat in execution going forward. We have flight four of Falcon 1 almost ready for flight and flight five right behind that. I have also given the go ahead to begin fabrication of flight six. Falcon 9 development will also continue unabated, taking into account the lessons learned with Falcon 1. We have made great progress this past week with the successful nine engine firing.

As a precautionary measure to guard against the possibility of flight 3 not reaching orbit, SpaceX recently accepted a significant investment. Combined with our existing cash reserves, that ensures we will have more than sufficient funding on hand to continue launching Falcon 1 and develop Falcon 9 and Dragon. There should be absolutely zero question that SpaceX will prevail in reaching orbit and demonstrating reliable space transport. For my part, I will never give up and I mean never.

Thanks for your hard work and now on to flight four.



Comments (25)

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  1. Monsignor Henry Clay

    They seemed to fix the first stage engine issue fairly quickly, but this is the second flight with staging issues. At least it was a different kind of issue than flight 2. You hate to have the same thing happen to you twice. In any case, they’ve already shown they can reach the environs of space. It’s only a matter of time before orbit is achieved. From the sounds of things there are plenty of people invested in this company. I’d wager success is just around the corner.

  2. MattGS

    I hope they still will succeed. Private spaceflight is the future, no doubt about that. And as a European I’m afraid that this is something only the US can achieve. Europe is way to beaurocratic for the private sector to flourish in something like spaceflight. Europe would probably never allow private spaceflight for security reasons. As much as I value human life, spaceflight is a dangerous business that always has and always will cost lives. And in my eyes those people who risk their lives for something as grand as the exploration of space are heroes. This is something worth taking the risk.

  3. Joey Joe Joe


    “At least it was a different kind of issue than flight 2. You hate to have the same thing happen to you twice.”

    I’m not so sure. If it were the same problem, then they’d only have one problem to fix!

    Unfortunately, there are so many thing which have to work perfectly… one little problem can blow the works.

    Good luck to them!

  4. Bob Brashear

    I can sympathize. We had staging failures on an amateur rocket (3 stages, rocket length: 20 feet) three times. We’re getting ready for a fourth try. Admittedly, we don’t have as much invested into our vehicle as Space X has in theirs.

  5. Gizmodo says that actor James Doohan’s ashes were aboard the Falcon 1. He was one of 208 people, umm, well at least what was left of 208 people aboard the rocket. They are now presumably resting in peace somewhere in the South Pacific.

  6. Joey Joe Joe


    Have you got a website for your rocket? I’d love to check it out!

  7. church405

    Hi Phil,

    OT, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this article:

    I read your piece earlier about downplaying the rumors and hype, but I know I’d be interested to hear what some of the possible (non-sensational) results could be. Some of the sincere guesses in the comment section are interesting. Would hydrocarbons necessarily an indication of fossilized life (certainly there’s been no life on Titan)? What sorts of minerals would be expected? Could phoenix detect organic (non-living) molecules?

  8. Also on board were the ashes of Astronaut Gordon Cooper.

  9. It would seem to me to be an incredibly hard task to find the culprit after complete destruction, but it’s been done before. Good luck to them. I want so very badly for this project to succeed.

  10. Ijon Tichy

    I have no doubt that private spaceflight is in the future. But public money in the form of direct investments and subsidies will be required to make the really big advances happen. Always has, always will.

  11. Michelle

    Did the rocket explode? If it didn’t explode… Is it possible that they could’ve retreived anything when the thing fell back?

  12. Ryan

    Bob, I know the feeling. Our two stager definitely staged, but the chutes never deployed, and we never found its impact point. It was rather painful to lose all those months of work, just like that.

    We’re at

  13. Bob Brashear

    Website is more or less static (read dead) The first launch was a magnificent corkscrew when 3 of the outboard motors on the first stage did not light. Good recovery systems saved us. The next was a late second stage ignition that drag separated the third stage, allowing the second stage to crash into the third stage. (Got that?) The third was a second stage no ignition, having the third stage ignite sending the payload kind of into more or less cruise missile mode.

    The big thing is that we overdesigned the recovery systems, allowing us to get everything back. We’re ramping up again. Hopefully this year.

  14. madge

    Good luck to them. Onwards and upwards :)

  15. Maybe they need a corporate sponsor? Someone like, oh maybe Viagra? If that doesn’t get it up nothing will.

  16. Joey Joe Joe


    Thanks for that! I hope you don’t mind that I had a bit of a chuckle at your expense when I read your description of the flights. I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time.

    Thanks for the link, too Ryan. I’ll check both the sites out.

  17. CanadianLeigh

    Gee I’d sure love to see a video of that. Your description alone left me corkscrewing in my chair. I wish you the best of luck on your next launch.
    Checked out your web page real quick like. It looks interesting and I will go back when I have more time to browse. Best of luck to you guys as well.

  18. Don Snow

    @ Michael L
    I’m not sure the ashes were lost.

    @ Bob –
    Is that the Falcon launch that you recovered everything?

    I wouldn’t want lawsuits by family members of people whoses ashes were aboard and lost, to slow things down.

    This thread is great. I’ve read about Space X in the newspaper. But some of ya’ll are in on it.
    Keep at it, you’ll make it.

  19. Santiago

    Can’t help but to conclude a few things from SpaceX’s effort:

    – Developing a new rocket system is incredibly difficult and you have to expect multiple failures, even if the rocket is privately developed. This fact alone might, unfortunately, have a cooling effect on anyone attempting what SpaceX is doing, they’ve proved the chances of failure are enormous.

    – Also, can’t help but think that new rocket systems would benefit enormously from being single-stage, possibly with strap-on boosters attached. Maybe developing the capability of the Merlin 1C stage to the point that it can reach LEO with a small pay load would make an important stepping stone before going for the complexity of a multi-stage vehicle.

    Anyway, I do hope that SpaceX’s fourth launch is successful, they definitely deserve to get to orbit, and if they can get the necessary cash flowing, they probably will.

  20. I remember Randi from his appearance on Australia’s Don Lane show (1980). I’ve never forgotten the name or the incident and I’d have to say he had quite some influence on my early skepticism, such as it was, though I never saw Don Lane the same way afterwards.

    Congratulations Phil.

  21. Sorry, wrong article. That’s twice this week. Feel free to delete.

  22. Bob Brashear


    Feel free to chuckle. Several of us busted guts afterward. Sort of “holy cow! did that really happen?!?”.


    Nice site. Good luck with your work. We also did a 14 foot rocket (carbon fiber airframe) that went up on a AN/MG motor to about 12,000 feet in 2005. We had three test firings of the motor that were “interesting”. The fourth test fire worked and we launched in the fall. When it works, it feels Damn Good!

  23. Nic

    A big shame. I really thought they would make it to orbit this time.
    It seems like a really odd failure too – the only stage separation failure I can think of before this was the Soyuz before the Apollo-Soyuz flight. Perhaps they happened a lot more in the really early days, I don’t know.
    I wonder if it is related to the fix for the first stage hitting the second stage engine bell last time (that triggered the ‘hard over’ which contributed to the ‘coning’ and roll instability seen on the second flight).
    Oh well, I know they’ll fix it and the Falcon 9 seems to be coming along nicely.


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