On Wednesday, SpaceX launched its Starship to 40,000 feet, in the highest-altitude test to date. That part was a huge success. The landing, however, was a bit more dramatic. That's actually an understatement--more specifically, the rocket crash-landed in a fiery explosion.
The launch had already been scrubbed once when an engine problem caused an abort with less than two seconds left on the countdown. According to Musk, the crash during landing wasn't related to that, and happened because of low pressure in the fuel header tank, "causing touchdown velocity to be high."
I'm not ashamed to admit I have no idea what any of that means, except that the rocket was going faster than it should have when it intersected with the earth. The rest is simple physics. Or chemistry, maybe? Probably both.
What I do know is that the Starship is estimated to cost around $200 million and SpaceX just blew one up, and it's still a win. The rest of that tweet makes it clear that the team got the data they needed. The mission itself was a success.
I've criticized Musk in the past for his showmanship and brash style. You can chalk this up to that, but I actually think this is exactly the response you should expect from a leader trying to send people to Mars.
When you're trying to do extraordinary things, it falls upon you as a leader to keep your team focused on what matters, and provide the motivation to keep moving forward. Extraordinary efforts result in extraordinary outcomes, good or bad. In this case, SpaceX accomplished everything it needed to.
That the rocket didn't stick the landing was certainly dramatic, but it wasn't the point. Yes, from a cost perspective, it was an expensive failure. From a mission standpoint, it was a huge success.
When something seems to go bad--like a big, expensive rocket ship burning on the launch pad after exploding on landing--it's up to you as a leader to refocus your team. That takes emotional intelligence.
It would be easy to focus on the explosion; that's certainly human nature. But human nature, on its own, won't accomplish what Musk is trying to do. Instead, it's his job to see the victory and make sure his team focuses on that. If the rest of us happen to see it as a win, that's great, but make no mistake--the important thing here is that he's setting the tone for the people who have invested a massive effort in making it happen.
I don't know if Musk's plans to send 100,000 people to colonize Mars are realistic. I do know that if it's going to happen, there are a lot of things that will have to go right. Sometimes, a few of them won't. When that happens, it's up to Musk to refocus his team and celebrate the win. That, by the way, happens to be your job, too.