What Is An RUD, The Gaming Term That Became Elon Musk's Way Of Describing SpaceX Disasters?

On Twitter, SpaceX used a three-word phrase to describe the company's unmanned Starship rocket explosion in a test flight, which took place on April 20, 2023, shortly after liftoff on the south Texas coast. In the tweet, SpaceX wrote: "As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation." "Rapid unscheduled disassembly," sometimes shortened to "RUD," is a term that SpaceX founder and Twitter owner Elon Musk used at least once before — in 2015 when SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket also blew up in an attempted landing.

Called the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, SpaceX Starship is the next step in the evolution of space travel from Falcon 9, The New York Times writes. With a larger capacity for crew and cargo, Starship could greatly reduce the cost of reaching orbit. It may also play a part in Musk's stated vision to one day establish human habitation on Mars. As for what seems to be Musk's preferred way of describing setbacks like rocket explosions, the phrase reportedly originated in a game called "Kerbal Space Program." In the game, players attempt to build rockets capable of reaching orbit. 

No one was injured in the Falcon 9 or Starship incidents. According to SpaceX (via CNN), the Starship explosion took place about 24 miles above the Earth's surface and about four minutes after liftoff.

Kerbal Space Program is a challenging game to play

As SpaceX founder Elon Musk has learned, building a rocket capable of reaching orbit and returning to Earth without exploding is difficult. The same can be said for the popular video game Kerbal Space Program (KSP). This has led players of the game to develop their own term for crash landings and fiery liftoffs: "RUD." In the past, Musk, with no formal training in aeronautics or rocket science, has spoken openly on Reddit about his affection for the game, VentureBeat explains.

When asked about his video game preferences during a Reddit AMA, Musk wrote: "Kerbal is awesome." Musk even joked that SpaceX might test its real-world software and rocket tech in KSP. In 2021, Musk asked for advice in a tweet: "What are we doing wrong at SpaceX?" The KSP team responded: "Have y'all tried playing more KSP? Usually the best ideas come after 1,000 hours. Let us know if you need some keys," referring to special codes available in video games used to gain certain advantages.

The Starship explosion taught SpaceX some lessons

In addition to SpaceX referring to the April 2023 explosion of the SpaceX starship in Texas as a "rapid unscheduled disassembly," Musk wrote on his personal Twitter feed that SpaceX will return for another Starship test flight attempt in a few months. Musk and the SpaceX team "learned a lot," his tweet read. NASA has plans to use SpaceX Starship for the 2025 Artemis III return mission to the moon, so the spacecraft will need to prove viable before that takes place.

In a successful April 2023 test flight, Starship would have reportedly reached near orbital speeds as it partially circled the planet. Of the Starship crash, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said (via CNN): "It looks like they got through the first stage of this big monster rocket. That's a real accomplishment. We'll get a report on what happened to the second stage, but I'm very encouraged that they've gotten along this far." The crash does not affect NASA's Artemis III plans, Nelson said. "This is a good start," he added.