August 2, 2008. Kwajalein Atoll.  In the third failure in the fledgeling commercial SpaceX launch program, a Falcon 1 lifter failed to achieve orbit shortly after liftoff.  The payload package consisted of two NASA packages, one DoD package, and one package for Celestis, Inc. The Celestis payload consisted of ca 208 vials of the cremated remains of customers who paid to have their ashes delivered into orbit.

Among those disappointed customers were the late actor James Doohan (“Scotty” from Star Trek) and astronaut Gordon Cooper. Curiously, this was their second successive space disaster together.  The package of remains previously fell to earth and landed in the White Sands area in May of 2007 following an earlier failure of a launch vehicle.

Wende Doohan, James Doohan’s widow, told the Associated Press news agency her late husband “probably wished he could have stayed [in orbit]”.   -BBC

Internet mogul Elon Musk said, “It was obviously a big disappointment not to reach orbit”. Musk is a founder of SpaceX and PayPal.  According to SpaceX, the failure occured when a thrust transient during first stage shutdown caused it to recontact the second stage soon after separation. This contact perturbation caused the vehicle to fail to reach orbit.

“Laddy! Would ya be needin’ a little somethun’ to wash that doon with?” 

-Cmdr Montgomery Scott

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