The SpaceX Starship test flight takes off in Boca Chica, Texas, on Thursday, April 20.
Watch SpaceX's uncrewed Starship explode shortly after liftoff
01:25 - Source: CNN

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CNN  — 

Rocket launches are like opening a box of chocolates, only riskier — you never know what you’re going to get.

And there is always a chance that things can explode.

As humans, we can’t help but be drawn to spectacles. When a rocket is set to leap off the launchpad, there’s a good chance of seeing a stunning liftoff or a spectacular failure.

The lead-up to this week’s launch of SpaceX’s Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, was a dramatic roller coaster.

Years of explosive tests, increasing hype and a multitude of hurdles culminated in what SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called “an exciting test launch” on Thursday morning — but not everything went according to plan.

Defying gravity

SpaceX's Starship lifts off Thursday morning from Boca Chica, Texas.

Initially, the historic first test flight of Starship appeared to be going smoothly. The rocket blasted off from the launchpad in South Texas and roared 24.2 miles (39 kilometers) over the Gulf of Mexico.

When it was time for the rocket boosters to separate from the spacecraft, the entire stack lost some of its engines and began to tumble before the flight termination system triggered a midair explosion.

Musk and SpaceX regard the test as successful because it completed a number of objectives for a vehicle that could carry astronauts to the moon or Mars one day.

But the company will have to work through challenges to achieve significant milestones before Musk’s vision becomes a reality.

A long time ago

Analysis of ancient DNA is bringing a powerful empire out of the shadows of history.

There are few written records of the Xiongnu, a dynasty of nomadic people who conquered distant places on horseback and pushed China to build its Great Wall.

Now, a genetic investigation of two cemeteries in present-day Mongolia has revealed new insights about the rival of imperial China that rose to power in the second century BC. The empire’s population was likely multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual, given how genetically diverse its people were.

Chinese rulers regarded the Xiongnu as barbarians. But among the graves, researchers found elaborate tombs, including one of an elite woman buried with golden artifacts and the remains of six horses and a chariot.

Once upon a planet

Just over a dozen roan antelopes live in Kenya's Ruma National Park.

Happy Earth Day to the “Blue Marble” we call home.

Our world supports about 8.7 million species, but some of them are dwindling. Award-winning conservation photographer Anthony Ochieng Onyango devotes his time to capturing images of decreasing populations, such as the roan antelope.

Onyango said he hopes his photos of rare animals will inspire action to protect wildlife and their habitats from destruction before some species reach the tipping point of extinction.

If you would also like to help protect hubs of diverse animal life, including the ocean, try to avoid single-use plastics, shop smarter for personal care products and choose sustainable fish at the market.

Want more ideas on how to help the planet and reduce your eco-anxiety? Sign up for CNN’s limited newsletter series Life, But Greener.

Fantastic creatures

Northern elephant seals look cozy as they take 10-hour naps on the beach during breeding season. But these marine mammals have to work hard just to catch two hours of sleep per day during monthslong foraging trips at sea.

Researchers arrived at a surprising finding after strapping caps to some of the seals and analyzing their brain waves.

The seals adapted to catch short naps during 30-minute deep dives to the bottom of the ocean, holding their breath all the while.

Once safely out of reach of predators, the seals experience sleep paralysis and spiral down in a corkscrew pattern like falling leaves — and wake up in time to keep from drowning.

Climate changed

Here are the remains of an eastern settlement in Greenland, where Vikings lived for four centuries before leaving the island.

The sudden disappearance of the Vikings from Greenland and why they abandoned a successful settlement there after 400 years has long intrigued historians.

Now, researchers have a new theory about why the Vikings abruptly departed in the mid-15th century: rising sea levels.

The sea levels rose up to 9.8 feet (3 meters), likely flooding some of the fertile lowland and creating increasingly difficult conditions for the Norse settlement.

Centuries later, global sea levels are on the rise due to the human-driven climate crisis — and Earth’s ice sheets lost enough ice over the past 30 years to create an ice cube 12 miles high.


Bookmark these findings for your next water cooler conversation:

— A brilliant starburst captured in a new image by the James Webb Space Telescope reveals what happened when two spiral galaxies crashed into each other.

— The natural world is a wild place, where carnivorous plants might lure prey using specific scents and worms get the munchies when exposed to cannabinoids.

— A lavish 2,000-year-old winery discovered among ruins might have doubled as an entertainment venue that turned winemaking into a theatrical show for wealthy Romans.

And before you go, here’s everything you need to know about observing the Lyrids meteor shower this weekend!

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