“Three, two, one,” chanted the crowd as SpaceX’s Starship – the most powerful rocket ever built – prepared for lift-off from the launchpad in south Texas on 20 April. The engines ignited. The rocket began its slow ascent through the thick clouds of smoke and dust. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s owner, watched from the flight operations centre known as Star Command. But then the booster rocket failed to separate. The spacecraft began to spin. “This does not appear to be a nominal situation,” commented a SpaceX engineer, moments before the rocket exploded.
Getting into orbit is challenging. This goes for presidential campaigns, too. As Starship’s remnants plummeted towards the Gulf of Mexico, another, slower implosion was taking place on the gulf’s eastern coast, where the Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s presumed presidential bid appeared to be coming apart. Though 44-year-old DeSantis has not yet publicly announced that he is running to be the Republican nominee for the presidency in 2024, he has privately told allies that he intends to do so. He is also doing everything that an aspiring candidate usually does. He has published a self-aggrandising memoir, begun touring early primary states and started raising money. He also embarked on a tour of US allies – with stops in Japan, Israel and the UK to meet with leaders and government ministers, including the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly – to boost his minimal foreign policy credentials.