Pentagon No. 2 praises SpaceX for learning from 'spectacular failures'

'Did they stop? No'

The Pentagon's second-highest-ranking military officer, Gen. John Hyten, praised SpaceX for learning from its "spectacular failures" during a Friday discussion at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

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The vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made the comments just before the private space technology company owned by Tesla founder Elon Musk successfully destroyed one of its rockets on Jan.19 in an effort to prove that its Crew Dragon spacecraft could "carry astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency on ascent," SpaceX tweeted.

"In the missile business, you need to test fast, learn fast, fly fast," Hyten said at the CSIS discussion. "Look at SpaceX in this country. There are some pretty spectacular failures. Did they stop? No. They instrumented the heck out of their capabilities, they learned from the[ir] failures, they launched rapidly again, they changed systems, they changed subsystems. They go in a completely different direction."

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Hyten added that North Korea has been doing the same thing to advance its missile program.

"If the dictator of North Korea has learned how to accept failure, why can't the United States learn how to accept failure?" he asked. "We need to understand what failure is and learn from those failures. Learn from the mistakes that we made. Move quickly from those mistakes."

Hyten also compared the speed of Silicon Valley tech giants to that of the Pentagon, saying the Defense Department is too slow in terms of building software.

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"When you go into the commercial sector and watch how we build software, it’s so fast. You look at Google or Facebook or Amazon Web Services or, or any of the small startups in Cambridge and Silicon Valley and Seattle and here in Washington. It's just amazing," Hyten said.

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"You ever walked into a defense contractor and watch us build software? Well, It is just a nightmare. And if you look at every one of our programs, it's a nightmare across the board," he added.

SpaceX's first-ever rocket launched failed just 33 seconds after liftoff in 2006; its second also failed the next year. In 2008, after its third major failure, SpaceX received its first investment of $20 million from billionaire Peter Thiel. The company has since continued to repeatedly fail and succeed, and its current worth sits at a hefty $33.3 billion.

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