X Ploded: A Bad Day For X Prize Rocketeers

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As if to remind us that messing about with rockets is not as easy as it looks, a thankfully unmanned test flight by Space Transport Corp. -- an X Prize contender based near Seattle -- took to the air on Sunday and promptly exploded. A spooky photo in the Seattle Times shows the decapitated plastic head of a dummy that was the craft's only unfortunate occupant. The undaunted team said at its Web site Monday they already know what went wrong and "the problem ... is easily resolved." One of the solid propellant engines over-pressurized and severely damaged the remainder of the engine assembly, the team said, apparently because the propellant was mis-formulated. "This is a short-term setback that will help us in the long run," the team said. The passenger capsule and nosecone broke free of the engine assembly and somersaulted toward the ocean. "Aside from the propellant lesson, numerous small lessons were learned and the cost of [the rocket] itself was minimal compared to the value of the knowledge gained in building and testing the vehicle."