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Debris from Firefly launch rains down near launch spectators

Alpha rocket exploding
Screen capture of explosion from Everyday Astronaut live stream.

When the range officer was forced to terminate the first launch of Firefly’s Alpha rocket on September 2, 2021, the subsequent explosion caused some of the debris to apparently fall near the spectators who had come out to see the launch.

Spectators who gathered across the Central Coast to watch the launch of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket — a privately designed, unmanned rocket built to carry satellites — instead saw it explode midair and debris rain down on nearby areas.

“I saw this thing floating down from the sky … then another piece, then another, and then hundreds of pieces varying in size were falling,” said Mike Hecker, a resident of Solvang who was out mountain biking in the Orcutt Hills with a large group of friends. “It was surreal to have rocket debris raining down on you,” he said.

According to all reports, it appears no one was injured or even came close to getting hurt.

We need to accept such things if we wish to do great things. The range officer destroyed the rocket to make sure it did not fly in one piece into anything on the ground, something that would have certainly caused great harm. Blowing it up prevented that, though it resulted in a small risk that smaller pieces might hit something.

Once, a story like this would have been intriguing but would have bothered no one. In today’s culture — which attempts to give everyone a “safe space” even from dissenting opinions — I fear that we shall find greater restrictions soon placed on launches.

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  • Joe

    The result of this is that we will ban anyone watching launches in person and instead steer then to the livestream.

    Yay us.

    For the record, I had a satellite on the rocket and some crew in the field watching. I wanted to be there knowing full well the risk but alas we could only send so many…

  • Doubting Thomas

    It sounds like some of the spectators saw debris fall at some distance and other spectators, seeing debris falling drove into the areas.

    Seeing debris fall some distance from you is not “having debris rain down on you” Seeing debris falling into an area and driving into the falling debris is the definition of stupid.

    Either way, I’ll keep going to rocket launches every chance I get.

  • To be fair to the nanny-staters, having heavy stuff falling out of the sky _is_ dangerous.

    That said, it sounds as if the cleared launch zone was sufficient in this case or the “non cleared” part was empty, anyway.

    Mr. Zimmerman, you are the one who says it’s irresponsible for the Chinese to drop rocket parts on the heads of their unsuspecting citizens. It’s no less irresponsible if we do it.

    However, Mr. Thomas is correct: If you run toward the falling debris, you are not “unsuspecting” and should not be surprised by further falling debris.

  • markedup2: The Chinese have been dropping rocket stages on its citizens intentionally for decades. We very very rarely have some pieces fall over rural areas, by accident. I think the distinction is somewhat important.

  • Patrick

    In the mid-sixties, I was a young school boy at Vandenberg, and my father was the Range Safety Officer (later promoted to Range Control Officer). He explained to me that the Vandenberg Launch Complex was sited where it is so that the polar launches would be over the ocean. The plan was not to launch over land and/or population centers.
    One day at school we all talked about the launch that was just blown up. The story went around at school was that the test war head had landed in the base trailer park and came to rest on a bassinet in a trailer. Dad confirmed later that night that the reason the missile was blown up was that it went off course and headed inland. And, yes, debris did fall in the trailer park, but no one was struck or injured.
    I can’t remember if he pressed the destruct button or simply ordered it done. But I did see the destruct button once on a visit to Launch Control. Exciting stuff for a young boy.

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