An hour after sunrise on June 28, Mike Safyan and nine co-workers from Planet Labs gathered in their San Francisco office for a pancake breakfast. It was a Sunday, so business was closed.
But this weekend morning was too momentous for Safyan and crew to stay home. Their 5-year-old start-up, which builds shoebox-sized satellites to orbit Earth and capture images of the planet, had eight "doves," as they're known, aboard an unmanned SpaceX capsule that was headed for the International Space Station.
If all went as planned, within about a month those satellites would join a fleet of 36 Planet Labs doves orbiting the Earth.
The big-screen TV in the dining room was turned on and Safyan chatted with some newer employees about past launches. The countdown was underway.
At 7:23 a.m. local time, a little over two minutes after blastoff, smoke ominously filled the screen. Things had gone awry. The Falcon 9 rocket was exploding just above NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, sending debris spewing into the Atlantic Ocean.
The mood in the dining room darkened.
"It's kind of a silent shock," said Safyan, who worked as an aerospace engineer at NASA before joining Planet Labs. "There's a moment of disbelief. Then it sinks in. You look at each other and realize, yep this is real—the launch failed."