The most powerful rocket ever built didn't have the best of starts to its space journey.
SpaceX's Starship, expected to ferry people to the Moon, Mars, and beyond someday, exploded during its maiden voyage on Thursday (20 April).
The rocket took off on its test flight at 8.33 am Central Time (01.33 pm GMT) from Starbase, SpaceX's private spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas.
The Starship capsule was supposed to separate from the first-stage rocket booster at the 3-minute mark, but the separation failed and the rocket exploded.
"As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation," SpaceX tweeted.
The space company declared the flight test a success despite not completing it fully.
"We cleared the tower which was our only hope," said Kate Tice, a SpaceX quality systems engineer.
"With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today's test will help us improve Starship's reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multi-planetary," SpaceX tweeted.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has selected the Starship spacecraft for the Artemis III mission, which will transport astronauts to the Moon in late 2025, for the first time ever since the Apollo programme ended in 1972.
Starship comprises a 164-ft tall craft for crew and cargo, placed on top of a 230-ft-tall first-stage Super Heavy booster rocket.
The test flight was intended to assess the performance of the Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy rocket in combination.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, had cautioned about possible technical problems and lowered expectations for the test flight before launch.
"It's a very risky flight," he said. "It's the first launch of a very complicated, gigantic rocket.
"There's a million ways this rocket could fail," Musk said.
"If we get far enough away from the launchpad before something goes wrong then I think I would consider that to be a success," Musk said prior to the flight. "Just don't blow up the launchpad."
NASA plans to use its Space Launch System (SLS) in November 2024 to take astronauts to lunar orbit.
Starship is more powerful than the SLS and can carry over 100 metric tonnes to orbit due to its larger size.
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