Zuckerberg’s Philanthropic Project Explodes on Musk’s Launchpad

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September 7, 2016; Slate, San Jose Mercury News, and the Orlando Sentinel

Last week, NPQ nonprofit newswire writer Jim Schaffer alluded to the efforts of Facebook’s Marc Zuckerberg to extend free Internet access of a sort to the people of India, which ended up being something of a bust after a promising start. Zuck’s luck when it comes to the distribution of free Internet services continues to run hard, as the satellite needed to advance their latest initiative was destroyed as a consequence of the explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

The satellite, an Israeli-made Spacecom model dubbed AMOS-6, was lost during what was effectively a dry run for the rocket, when “an anomaly” on the launch pad involving the upper stage oxygen tank caused the craft to explode during the fueling process. Since the accident happened during a dry-fire test, the degree to which insurance will cover the losses is still up for debate, but Spaceflight Now suggests the amount could be as high as $250 million if one includes compensation directly from SpaceX.

Marc Zuckerberg was in Africa when news of the explosion got out, awaiting the launch, which was a crucial component of Facebook’s Internet.org program to offer a focused-but-free online experience to sub-Saharan Africa and other areas that may need it. When word hit him, Zuckerberg had this to say:

As Slate points out, there’s a lot of meaning carried in this Facebook post below the surface:

It is possible to read this as a sincere expression of sadness from Zuckerberg emanating from a place of deep concern for the people who will now have to go longer without access to his “Free Basics” data service. It is also possible, thanks to verbiage such as “deeply disappointed,” “destroyed,” and “SpaceX’s launch failure,” to read it as a stone-cold smackdown of SpaceX and its own CEO, Elon Musk. Probably the statement contains some of each, seasoned with a healthy dose of righteous posturing from a man who has anointed himself champion of the sick and the poor. To be fair, on that score, Zuckerberg has put plenty of money where his mouth is.

The loss of the satellite means delays for Internet.org, but not insurmountable ones, since the Aquila program of solar-driven Internet drones seems to be moving forward.—Jason Schneiderman

  • I commend Mark Zukenberg on his generous program to provide Internet access to communities in need. Such access creates great educational and entrepreneurial opportunities in countries like the one we work in (Haiti).

    I regret that NPQ chose to title this article in a sensationalist manner – it is not what I expect from an organization whose aim is to promote philanthropy, generosity of spirit and the work of nonprofits.