commercial space, Dragon 2, Dragon Capsule, Elon Musk, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, International Space Station, journalism, journalism standards, journalistic ethics, manned space program, manned spacecraft, Soviet space program, space exploration, space flight, Space.com
Space.com is in love. They are head-over-heels in love with SpaceX. Reading the articles posted by Space.com writers one might think that SpaceX has already landed on Mars, colonized the Moon, and cured the common cold. It’s not that Space.com writers present false information about SpaceX, it’s just that they tend to overlook…well, almost everything negative.
This style of almost compulsory cheerleading of SpaceX by an alleged news source is reminiscent of the type of reporting from the Soviet days of TASS (Telegrafnoye agentstvo Sovetskogo Soyuza,) Russia’s official news source. From 1925 to 1992, Soviet intelligence agencies often used TASS to put out positive news and disinformation, including crafted stories praising the Soviet space program. For decades, TASS was the mouthpiece for the Soviet government reminding Soviet citizens that the Soviet government was always correct even when they were wrong.
A Fake Starship Prototype?
Space.com demonstrates the Soviet-like reporting in one of its latest articles on SpaceX. Writer Lee Cavendish published an article [Space.com 29 Mar 2019] that gushed about SpaceX’s Starship Hopper. He began his piece as follows:
SpaceX continues to amaze in popularizing space exploration. Not only is it doing fantastic work in reaching and exploring space…
Lee Cavendish for Space.com
For his article, he used this artist’s rendering of the Starship…
However, this is what the actual craft looked like at the test site in January before the top blew off in the wind…
…and this is what it looked like after it fall down, go boom….
…and finally, this is what it looked like for this week’s tests:
It’s understandable why the artist’s rendering was used and not images of the real thing. SpaceX didn’t even bother to put the top half of the Starship back on for the test.
Close-ups of the bottom of the Starship would indicate that almost no effort was put into making this ‘prototype’ anything but a show for the public. From top to bottom this doesn’t look like anything that can get off the ground, which is may be why Space.com used an artist’s rendering.
Is Space.com Ignoring the Problems?
SpaceX has glaring problems and yet, Space.com has nothing but praise for the company. This week I wrote two articles detailing their problems (SpaceX’s Implosion and SpaceX 2019 Launch Schedule Realities] and yet, space-focused media outlets like Space.com seem to have a blind eye regarding the issues that seem to be obvious.
Among the issues that seem to be ignored are:
- Hidden costs of relanding the boosters (30% fuel reserved for relanding reducing lift capacity, cost of boosters built for reentry and landing, cost of maintaining an ocean landing pad, costs of launch delays because of weather conditions at the ocean landing pad, cost of transportation of reused booster, costs of refurbishment of a booster, etc.)
- Reduction of 10% of their workers when they should be expanding
- Failure to test a Block 5 version of the Falcon Heavy before launching for a paying customer
- A lack of progress on Dragon 2 and Falcon Heavy testing for most of 2018
- Drastic reduction in 2019 launch schedule
- Significantly underpricing the cost of a mission while apparently in a financial crisis
- A silly prototype test of the SpaceX Starship
- Overhyping an unmanned test of the Dragon 2 crew capsule that was essentially a mimic of a cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS)
Space.com: SpaceX’s Public Relations Team
Instead, Space.com publishes an unending series of articles that 1) sing praises of SpaceX, 2) seem to be expanded versions of a SpaceX public service announcement, and/or 3) are based on an Elon Musk Tweet. At times the articles cover the same topic as reported by another Space.com writer or sometimes the same writer will cover the same topic, only days apart.
Below is a list of articles that Space.com has published regarding SpaceX in the last 35 days:
- Meet SpaceX’s Starship Hopper [Space.com 29 Mar 2019 – Lee Cavendish]
- SpaceX’s Hexagon Tiles for Starship Heat Shield Pass Fiery Test [Space.com 22 Mar 2019 – Tariq Malik]
- You Can Watch SpaceX’s Starship Hopper Tests Live Via a South Texas Surf School [Space.com 22 Mar 2019 – Sarah Lewin]
- SpaceX Preparing to Begin Starship Hopper Tests [Space.com 18 Mar 2019 – Jeff Foust]
- SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Megarocket to Fly 1st Commercial Mission in April: Report [Space.com 18 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
- SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-1 Test Flight in Pictures [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Hanneke Weitering]
- SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Looks Just Like a Toasted Marshmallow After Fiery Re-Entry [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Tariq Malik]
- SpaceX Crew Dragon Splashes Down in Atlantic to Cap Historic Test Flight [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
- SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Success Heralds ‘New Era’ in Spaceflight [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
- SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Left Its ‘Little Earth’ Behind on Space Station [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Hanneke Weitering]
- SpaceX Crew Dragon Re-Entry May Be Visible Over Some of Eastern US [Space.com 7 Mar 2019 – Joe Rao]
- Astronauts Pack Up SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for Return to Earth [Space.com 7 Mar 2019 – Meghan Bartels]
- SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Homecoming Friday May Be Toughest Part of Its Mission [Space.com 6 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
- VP Mike Pence Hails SpaceX Crew Dragon Success at Space Station [Space.com 6 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
- ‘Little Earth’ on SpaceX Crew Dragon Gives Boost to Celestial Buddies [Space.com 4 Mar 2019 – Robert Z. Pearlman]
- New ‘Celestial Buddies’ Earth Plush Is Even Cooler than SpaceX’s ‘Zero-G Indicator’ [Space.com 4 Mar 2019 – Kasandra Brabaw]
- SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Docks at Space Station for First Time [Space.com 3 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
- Trump Hails SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch, Says NASA’s ‘Rocking Again’ [Space.com 3 Mar 2019 – Tariq Malik]
- SpaceX Adds Adorable ‘Zero-G Indicator’ Inside the Crew Dragon [Space.com 2 Mar 2019 – Hanneke Weitering]
- Elon Musk Was Emotionally Wrecked by SpaceX’s 1st Crew Dragon Launch Success — But In A Good Way [Space.com 2 Mar 2019 – Tariq Malik]
- SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch Heralds ‘New Era in Spaceflight,’ NASA Chief Says [Space.com 2 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
- With SpaceX and Boeing, Commercial Crew Launches Will Boost Space Station Science [Space.com 1 Mar 2019 – Meghan Bartels]
- It’s Just About ‘Go’ Time for SpaceX’s 1st Crew Dragon Spaceship [Space.com 28 Feb 2019 – Tariq Malik]
- SpaceX Is Launching a Spacesuit-Clad Dummy on 1st Crew Dragon [Space.com 27 Feb 2019 – Mike Wall]
- NASA, SpaceX ‘Go’ for 1st Crew Dragon Test Flight on March 2 [Space.com 23 Feb 2019 – Mike Wall]
The question is why? Why do Space.com writers seem like they are part of a Soviet-style news agency? One reason is that perhaps they are just fans of SpaceX and Space.com has become a SpaceX fansite. Another possibility is that their access to information regarding SpaceX is conditional on cooperation with the company. It may be as simple as an article that is critical of SpaceX will result in he or she being blacklisted. Maybe the writers are enamored with and afraid of SpaceX at the same time.
Regardless, it would seem that Space.com is not a reliable source of unbiased information. In 2003, Space.com won an award from the Online Journalism Association for coverage of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. That was over 15 years ago. Maybe they haven’t won another award because they actually have to do journalism to be considered.