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In the movie The Martian in a scene right after the failed launch of provisions, there's a text on the screen as a chat message arrives at one of the scientists' computer.

how'd the launch go?

Now, as far I'm informed, the only two meanings of how'd are:

  1. how would
  2. how had

Now, (1) makes no sense semantically, since the event is already in the past, so it couldn't go in any other way than it already has. Then, (2) is grammatically wrong, as the form of to go should then be gone, as in had gone.

Since the involved parties are both highly educated individuals, I can't really chalk it up on colloquial sloppiness. Intuitively, it should be did, as in how did it go, which makes semantic sense and observes grammatical congruence. However, I can't find any reference of 'd being an abbreviation for did.

What am I missing?

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You are just missing that in rapid speech, auxiliary verbs become reduced and so "how did" can become pronounced as "how'd", and this is a casual, but acceptable, representation of the spoken language. I would put it on roughly the same level of informality as writing "gonna" instead of "going to".

These contractions are common in casual or colloquial speech, and in written representations of spoken English. They are equally common among the educated and not a mark of being uneducated.

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I can't find any reference of 'd being an abbreviation for did. What am I missing?

It's not an abbreviation with a fixed number of valid things it can stand for. 'd means simply some letters have been ommitted, followed by a d - that's all. Apostrophes can stand for any missing letters. In this case, yes, it would be did.

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