Watch NASA engineers deliberately explode a rocket tank for science

NASA is getting pretty good at blowing up its next-gen rocket system.

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

NASA engineers deliberately burst the huge liquid oxygen tank on June 24. 


Want to see a rocket tank explode as its pushed to the point of failure by NASA engineers? Of course you want to see a rocket tank explode as its pushed to the point of failure by NASA engineers.

On Wednesday, NASA's engineering team completed their tests on the liquid oxygen tank of Space Launch System (SLS), the next-generation rocket designed to take astronauts to the moon in 2024. The 70-foot-tall (21 meter) test tank was encased in a steel ring at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama that applied millions of pounds of force down the tank's length. Eventually, it failed -- just as the engineers expected. 

The test tank that was deliberately destroyed is identical to the one that will form the core stage of the SLS. 

But let's get on with it: Let's watch the tank explode.

The engineering team is getting pretty good at blowing holes in this tank, following similar work done back in December 2019. The latest blowout is a significant achievement because it marks the end of a three-year campaign to test the rocket tank and ensure it can stand up to the intensity of getting off the planet. 

"This year is a landmark year for core stage testing for the Artemis missions," Julie Bassler, SLS stages manager, said in a release. "We have successfully completed our core stage major structural tests at Marshall Space Flight Center."  

Almost 200 separate tests were conducted to help push along the rocket's design. With the structural testing complete, NASA can make tweaks to the design, optimizing the rocket for flight, and begin aiming for the Artemis I mission -- the first integrated test of the SLS, the Orion launch vehicle and all the systems for launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission was delayed earlier this year and is now expected to launch in mid-to-late 2021. 

Watch this: Our future on the moon: What will the moon look like in 2069?