Yesterday, the most powerful rocket ever built and the first to be completely reusable took to the sky and flew for almost four minutes. At that point, SpaceX's Super Heavy booster and mega-rocket Starship were supposed to separate. Starship would have then continued to travel for another 86 minutes. Instead, it exploded – but this was not necessarily a failure. According to SpaceX, it was intentional.
During the livestream, after launching into space the whole system could be seen beginning to tumble and at that point, the Flight Termination System was activated. This is a set of interconnected activators and actuators that can destroy a rocket if it’s experiencing a malfunction. The system is independent of the vehicle (having its own power source) and is activated to keep the malfunctioning craft from falling where it could cause major damage.
For Starship, that required a full explosion of the booster first (at 3:59 after launch) and Starship second (at 4:01). The "rapid unscheduled disassembly", which has now become a meme on social media, was just a big self-destruct mechanism for if things veered off course.
"Every great achievement throughout history has demanded some level of calculated risk, because with great risk comes great reward. Looking forward to all that SpaceX learns, to the next flight test – and beyond,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a tweet.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, commented that the team will test the rocket again in a few months.