NASA urges patience as SpaceX investigates the Crew Dragon explosion

Details remain scant but NASA insists the investigation into the crew capsule incident will take time.

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
2 min read

The Crew Dragon capsule docking with the space station in March. 


SpaceX and NASA are currently investigating the cause of an anomaly that resulted in an engine failure of the Crew Dragon capsule, designed to ferry humans between Earth and the International Space Station. The incident occurred on April 20 but did not result in any injuries.

According to a SpaceX spokesperson, the Crew Dragon capsule suffered an "anomaly" during ground testing. The anomaly caused a serious failure with the Crew Dragon and may have resulted in loss of the spacecraft but details remain scant. After the incident, billowing, orange smoke was seen over the testing zone at Cape Canaveral, Florida and an unverified video of the vehicle circulated across Twitter, showing a fiery explosion. The video has since been deleted.

The spacecraft completed a historic, uncrewed journey to the ISS in March and was undergoing a series of tests on its SuperDracos, a suite of eight rocket engines that are designed to jettison it from a launch vehicle in case of emergency. The head of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), Patricia Sanders, said on Thursday that firing the smaller Draco engines was successful, but the firing of the eight SuperDracos caused the anomaly.

"SpaceX is leading the investigation with active NASA participation," Sanders noted at the meeting. "The investigation will take time before the root cause analysis is completed."

Former astronaut and current ASAP member Sandra Magnus understands there is a lot of interest surrounding the mishap, but called for patience. The investigation is currently collecting data and Magnus made it clear there will be no crewed missions until the Commercial Crew Program has received "the data they require."

NASA and SpaceX planned to launch the Crew Dragon on a Falcon 9 booster in June this year to test its in-flight abort capabilities -- which utilize the SuperDraco engines -- and then prepare to launch two NASA astronauts in the first crewed demonstration in July. Although yet to be officially ruled out, NASA recently removed the dates they were shooting for from their launch schedule

 "It's still too early to speculate on how that body of work will alter based on recent events," Magnus said.

Meet the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, the world's most powerful rocket

See all photos