SpaceX’s Falcon 9 exploding in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (US Launch Report / Reuters)

Every week, Truthdig’s editors seek to present an image that singularly renders the world’s trouble, triumph or toil. — — —

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

—Percy Bysshe Shelley                               

Shelley’s poem about the folly of seeking to lord oneself over one’s peers and nature came to mind when Silicon Valley leader Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded in spectacular fashion at a launch site in Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Thursday morning.

The disaster was no different in kind than the results of the U.S. government’s first attempt to launch a satellite into orbit in late 1957. But the portion of the left-wing mind that ranges from abiding suspicion to raging rejection of the doctrine of private wealth was liable to enjoy a touch of schadenfreude when the billionaire’s dream flashed hues of yellow and orange before shaking buildings for several miles around and drawing the sirens of emergency vehicles. Musk hopes to send an unmanned flight to Mars by 2018.

The explosion of Falcon 9 was due, initial reports said, to a problem with the project’s launch pad rather than the ship itself. It was the second such disappointment for Musk in a little over a year, when a rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded shortly after takeoff. No one was killed or injured in either crash.

Musk wasn’t the only billionaire ready to shed tears over the disappointment Thursday. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was “deeply disappointed” by the accident, as the launch failure destroyed a satellite that he and a group of French and Israeli investors hoped would provide internet access to 635 million people in some 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. With his social media empire, robust support for charter schools and global charity-cum-investment vehicle launched in late 2015, Zuckerberg has cast himself as a philanthropist eager to connect the world’s people. But not everyone is appreciative.

In February, India’s telecommunication authority threw out Facebook’s attempt to take over the country’s internet service because the program, called Free Basics, would have provided access to a web that was limited to services selected by Facebook and its commercial partners. “Poor Internet for Poor People,” India’s net neutrality activists called it. The Egyptians dropped the program in April after Facebook refused to let it snoop on users.

When Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in December, The New York Times reported that the organization’s classification as a “limited liability company instead of a nonprofit corporation or foundation” would allow the couple to “invest in companies, lobby for legislation and seek to influence public policy,” which nonprofits cannot do under tax laws. The Guardian called Zuckerberg’s latest partnership with Musk a “controversial move to corner the market in one of the world’s biggest mobile data growth regions.” Zuckerberg made his $53.7 billion, after all, by delivering his unprecedented knowledge of his users’ personal tastes and preferences to advertisers.

After the explosion Thursday, NASA said the rocket and craft for its next planned project with SpaceX, Osiris-Rex, were “healthy and secure.” Set for launch next Thursday, Sept. 8, the nearly $1 billion, public-private effort will seek to retrieve samples from an asteroid. Scientists hope to learn more about the origin and formation of the solar system and life on earth. If successful, the craft will be the first from the U.S. to return such samples.

After the explosion, NASA stated via Facebook: “We remain confident in our commercial partners and firmly stand behind the successful 21st century launch complex that NASA, other federal agencies, and U.S. commercial companies are building on Florida’s Space Coast.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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