Blog, Robots & Dinosaurs

If you have to fail, do it like a Champagne Supernova


At the end of this post you will find a youtube video. If you’re in a hurry scroll down and watch it now. It deserves to be seen.

Either if you have already seen it or if you are planning to do it afterwords, I am going to tell you what is it about. It is the EPIC FAIL of a rocket launch (Proton-M), crashing into the ground with no mercy. Everybody is OK, no man down. I am hardly trying not to make fun of the Russians crushing things around. Just thank you for existing.

Only one engineering detail. The explosion is a chemical reaction caused when 630 tons of unsymmetric dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) shake their hands with no protections. Don’t try this at home.

But apart from the beautiful explosion there is an interesting lesson we can learn from the Proton-M and its failure. And it all starts with some percentages. The Proton-M is a Russian rocket used for military and commercial space missions. This last one should have deployed some commercial GPS satellites over our heads. So it is also thank to this unstable piece of metal filled with chemical reagents if our position in the world can be determined by our mobile phones.

Sadly, this rocket is not famous for its stability and reliability: the percentage of mission achievement is only 89.8%. That may sound ok, but it basically means that every time they fire a Proton rocket there is a 1 chance over 10 to watch it shine bright (like a diamond) in the sky. Boom, kaput, gone forever together with the loaded package. Furthermore, if you sum up the cost of the launch, around 95 and 105 million dollars, you get an idea of the cost of the failure.

Why I am telling you this? For a good reason. To learn a useful lesson about risk and failure.

In southern Europe, where I came from, failure isn’t welcome. More than that, failure is disgusted as the idea of the spray cheese. Failure is not even an option, it is just no OK.  People usually prefer not to risk in order not to fail. If the entire world would have followed the same philosophy, today we won’t be using the GPS in our mobile phones just because the risk of a rocket failure was too high. Can you imagine that? No more Foursquare, no more running with Nike+, no more tagged pics on Instagram. Bloody spray cheese, it would be a catastrophic nightmare!

So let’s all learn something from the Russians: it is OK to fail, if you do it in the right way. No astronaut or land operator has been harmed during this terrific explosion, just a few goats and a rabbit passing by with no authorization. No major consequences, just a boom. Next launch will go better. It is a controlled risk, you know exactly where are the boundaries of your possible bad luck.

So let’s all cheers to that and watch the video again. I have just realized that today is the 4 of July, so let’s celebrate the independence day with this unique firework.

I have found the photo here, but the author is unknown.

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