How Tesla Will Change The World
November 10, 2015 12:57 AM   Subscribe

 
Man, that took a while, but there's got to be a short book's worth of words in those pieces. Looking forward to reading the last part in the morning. I've been regularly checking a couple of times a week in anticipation.

The hero-worship flavour might be a bit off-putting to some, but for my part, it is also my greatest hope that Musk succeeds in some or all of the stuff he's trying to do. I'd quit my semi-hifalutin' job tomorrow to become a janitor at SpaceX if I could.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:25 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sigh, he's so dreamy. Said all the henchwomen and dastardly paramours in just about every Bond film ever. But seriously, Team Musk!
posted by chainlinkspiral at 1:30 AM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've been reading and sharing with various folks I know as the series has gone on and it's been enjoyable (if a little sucking up in parts - one hopes he's not trying to score a free Model S...)

Musk's way of doing business is certainly against the grain and commentators pretty quickly devolve into "haterz" and "fanboiz". I personally like what he's doing, I like his reasons for doing so and I do genuinely believe that he's the man that is dragging the automobile industry into the future. As with any hagiography it's worth seeking out alternative sources but everything I've read basically says he's a machine, he works damn hard, he has a solid plan and he doesn't tolerate fools.

I'll be interested to see what MeFites with a better sense of economics than I have (e.g. none) think about the way Tesla is being run. To me, massive up front R&D costs are sensible when you're on the cutting edge but criticism of the way the business is run often has me wondering. Anyone with a finer understanding of business willing to offer up an opinion?
posted by longbaugh at 1:34 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Don't fall too much in love. Recall that some of his ideas hie closer to "ubeam" levels of bumping up against physical limits of the universe, or ignore economies of scale.

He's equal parts iron man industrialist and greatest showman on earth. Or the moon, once he strip mines it.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:40 AM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Whenever I see Musk's name, I can't help but think of the phrase "Silk for Caldé."
posted by deadbilly at 1:48 AM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


(I should also add, in reference to the most recent article that on getting an opinion I will weigh it and make some delicious chef-type recipe rather than simply chucking it in my cook book).
posted by longbaugh at 1:57 AM on November 10, 2015


I'd argue that ground-level power supply for automobiles is what will keep the "American way of life" viable, assuming that's your goal. An electric vehicle is a prerequisite for that of course, but it's not the only issue.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:09 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


That Mars article really downplays the effect of radiation from the Sun.

Mars colonists aren't going to just pop up bubble tents to live in before they build glass domes, they're going to have to excavate and build habitats (and grow crops) a few meters underground.
posted by PenDevil at 2:15 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


In fairness, though, digging a few holes after traveling 230 million kilometers or so seems more on the level of a minor inconvenience, relatively speaking.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:43 AM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]




I'd quit my semi-hifalutin' job tomorrow to become a janitor at SpaceX if I could.

A few of my friends who work in aerospace have noted that this seems to be having a strong downward pressure on salaries. So many people want to work at SpaceX that the compensation kind of sucks, which is subsequently having ripples throughout the rest of the industry.
posted by schmod at 4:12 AM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


That series might be the ultimate tl;dr - I could watch the battery meter on my phone dropping while I was just trying to scroll through part two to get to the 'Tesla Story' part. Is there a summary anywhere (he asks plaintively)?
posted by twsf at 4:21 AM on November 10, 2015


Mars colonists aren't going to just pop up bubble tents to live in before they build glass domes

The scale of that dome makes it look deceptively thin and fragile. Those panels are 4-metre thick transparent aluminum.

The writer clearly hasn't got the slightest idea how they will colonize Mars, though. SpaceX is apparently too busy worrying about how to get people to Mars to think much about what they'll do when they get there. Getting there of course is a difficult enough challenge even for a super-impressive super-smart leader. Overall though, it's the easy part.

1. Send a million people to Mars, with enough food and water to last them a little while.
2. ???
3. Terraforming!
posted by sfenders at 5:05 AM on November 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Low Tesla reliability isn't a surprise to anyone in the industry. Expensive luxury cars often have the worst scores (don't own a BMW more than 5 years old) and Tesla is new to the game and have all the gadgets to break. I'm surprised that the door handles don't have some sort of manual override, but I'm sure Elon thought it was ugly so they didn't do it.
posted by TheJoven at 5:11 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


sfenders - isn't step #2: "Grow potatoes" ?
posted by parki at 5:26 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Trannnsssparent aluuuminum?!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:32 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


isn't step #2: "Grow potatoes" ?

If so, I fear that we may need to plan for more than one additional step between there and getting to giant domed cities.
posted by sfenders at 5:32 AM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


In fairness, though, digging a few holes after traveling 230 million kilometers or so seems more on the level of a minor inconvenience, relatively speaking.

This is beyond "digging a few holes". It's a whole other level of engineering effort that not be glibly waved away as 'no big deal'. Getting equipment from the bottom of Earth's gravity well, to the bottom of Mars's gravity well, making said equipment reliable, then digging out caves large enough to safely house people and their equipment, for no real benefit that will pay for the billions needed to pull it off without killing too many people is pretty much an impossible dream.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:39 AM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Cosmic gamma rays and space travel.

More cars?
posted by larry_darrell at 5:44 AM on November 10, 2015


for no real benefit that will pay for the billions needed to pull it off without killing too many people is pretty much an impossible dream

rabble rabble off this rock rabble rabble star trek rabble rabble eggs in one basket rabble rabble rabble destiny rabble rabble
posted by entropicamericana at 5:55 AM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Whenever I see Musk's name, I can't help but think of the phrase "Silk for Caldé."

I can't help but think of the phrase "sexy-igniting!" (Which I'm waiting for someone to work into a piece on the Space X rocket.)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:13 AM on November 10, 2015


Musk's plan of "Fusion bomb the shit out of the poles" is fun, and a lot better than it sounds to the layman at any rate.

The alternative is "Smash Phobos into the surface using a massive space laser/fusion bombs/massive solar sail" which is my second favourite ever Mars terraforming idea. Most timelines I've seen range between 600 years (ludicrously overconfident) to 5000 years with a more realistic timescale of 1,500 - 3,000 years.

A combination of raising albedo with anaerobic UV and radiation resistent moss, releasing stored water and so on is an extreme long-term plan, well out of the capacity of human beings as we currently are. It's been a couple of years since I actually read anything about Martian terraforming though so everything has no doubt changed...

Once we have the magical triumvarate of SAI, nanotechnology and fusion everything will solve itself.*

On the subject of Teslas getting reduced reliability ratings, Consumer Reports got a lot of shit for their >100% rating and there are absolutely cars that are better in many individual respects than the Model S. Regardless, if you said "Pick absolutely any car in the world" I'd have a P90D with all the options in a heartbeat.


*"I've heard it's only 50 years away!"
posted by longbaugh at 6:19 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Total Musk fanboy here but do note that what he is doing is much more refinement and seeing market gaps than revolutionary science. For the car he noticed that the Li-ion tech was hitting a price/volume point that would work and for rockets that there were insane inefficiencies in that industry.

Not to discount the amazing achievements by those two companies but you don't get the best engineers and other employees to jump on board with the battle cry: "I've found a better supply chain".
posted by sammyo at 6:20 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Requisite link to ST: IV transparent aluminum scene.
posted by bitterkitten at 6:23 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd argue that ground-level power supply for automobiles is what will keep the "American way of life" viable, assuming that's your goal.

But what if you think "the American way of life" is total balls.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:25 AM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


It'd take a lot more than that to keep "the American way of life" viable, anyway. Pixie dust and happy thoughts ain't gonna cut it, either.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:30 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some people just gotta find a hero to worship, I guess. First Jobs, now Musk. Guy got a lot of great press offering Tesla's patent portfolio for "free," if you don't look at the fact that nothing prevents Tesla from suing you except their interpretation of good faith, and they continue to file and prosecute patents. And the Hyperloop thing was grade A bullshit.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:52 AM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


rabble rabble off this rock rabble rabble star trek rabble rabble eggs in one basket rabble rabble rabble destiny rabble rabble

Are eggs are pretty much designed for only one basket. You can put'em somewhere else if you like, but it looks like they're going be boiled and not in a good way.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:04 AM on November 10, 2015


Or, you know "our" eggs.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:12 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, no, it's genetically-engineered potatoes that grow into giant domed cities
posted by XMLicious at 7:16 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]




While I admit that SpaceX is doing some excellent things for our potential to colonize space, I can't help but think that the Mars colony idea is a bit shortsighted. Namely, it is skipping a step to colonize Mars without first building a significant industrial capacity in space.

If the people on Earth need to regularly send supplies to Mars, what's the point of the colony in the first place? Since it's not independent, it won't represent an insurance policy against disasters on Earth. The colony could be a bit like Amundsen-Scott Station, with the inhabitants receiving provisions and equipment in return for doing scientific research. However, if science is the goal, it's cheaper and safer to just send robots.

Basically, the bottom line is that reducing launch costs by 65% isn't enough to build a Mars colony that is free of the effects of financial turmoil on Earth. It would be much saner if we first focused on developing the means to manufacture bulky items in Earth orbit, both by mining the moon and scavenging defunct satellites. This will at least reduce the need for costly launches from Earth's gravity well.

One could argue that we could develop industrial capacity at the Mars colony itself, but I would have to disagree. First off, there's the turnaround time. It's going to be a slow process if every time we develop a new piece of manufacturing equipment, we have to wait several years before we can test it out on Mars. Getting it into operation on the Moon will be faster. Also, Earth orbit provides better access to solar power. While a Mars colony will eventually get its own mines and factories, I don't see that happening in the absence of a large initial investment in projects closer to Earth.

There's a reason why people went to the Moon and never went back. Going to space is hard, but living in space is crazy difficult.
posted by droro at 7:31 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


1. Send a million people to Mars, with enough food and water to last them a little while.
2. ???
3. Terraforming!


3. A million corpses.
posted by aught at 7:32 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


He's cool and all, but why does he carry loose sugar in his pockets? It just seems unsanitary.
posted by Colby_Longhorn at 7:34 AM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


A few of my friends who work in aerospace have noted that this seems to be having a strong downward pressure on salaries.

My (admittedly 3rd hand) impression is that they also work "startup hours", which is pretty unusual in the staid aerospace industry. Not something I envy.
posted by indubitable at 7:35 AM on November 10, 2015


Mars colonists aren't going to just pop up bubble tents to live in before they build glass domes

No? Wouldn't they just build them out of plastic sheets and duct tape?
posted by sneebler at 7:41 AM on November 10, 2015


Are eggs are pretty much designed for only one basket. You can put'em somewhere else if you like, but it looks like they're going be boiled and not in a good way.

But, but.. Future magical technology that hasn't been invented yet! Blithe ignorance of the laws of physics! False comparison to ocean exploration!
posted by entropicamericana at 7:43 AM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


rabble rabble off this rock rabble rabble star trek rabble rabble eggs in one basket rabble rabble rabble destiny rabble rabble

If my current basket, having the eggs in it, were on fire, I wouldn't set out to walk to another country where I may be able to get another basket to transfer some eggs, although that basket is radioactive and unusable as it stands.

To scrap the metaphor, when your world is on the point of environmental collapse and billions of real, breathing, loved people are at risk of death and misery is not the time to be trying to get to Mars for the good of some notional future people. We have real terraforming challenges right here. I'm sorry they're not fun or sexy, but they can actually save lives, so maybe it balances out.
posted by howfar at 7:43 AM on November 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


SpaceX is apparently too busy worrying about how to get people to Mars to think much about what they'll do when they get there

The articles are very hero worship in tone, but I see no reason to believe that SpaceX has no plans once they set foot outside the rocketship. Do you really think they're going to get there and then say "Oh, I guess we should have made a plan?"

To scrap the metaphor, when your world is on the point of environmental collapse and billions of real, breathing, loved people are at risk of death and misery is not the time to be trying to get to Mars for the good of some notional future people. We have real terraforming challenges right here. I'm sorry they're not fun or sexy, but they can actually save lives, so maybe it balances out.

You mean like creating vehicles that don't rely on fossil fuels? And developing a home battery storage solution for solar? Maybe building a factory to help reduce the cost of the batteries?

I don't believe that we need to cease all space exploration until every problem on Earth is solved. We can make efforts in more than one area at a time.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:53 AM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


In fairness, though, digging a few holes after traveling 230 million kilometers or so seems more on the level of a minor inconvenience, relatively speaking.

~400 days at low/micro gravity. You're not going to have much strength for a shovel. So, you're either carrying many power driven tools (which means you need that much more mass in orbit and that much more power on the surface, and the solar flux is lower....) or you're going to need to send robots to make sure there's base tunnels dug before you land, which of course, means you also need launch mass and power, but not at the same time your astronauts need them, and bonus, the solar panels will still be there, so you shouldn't have to ship two sets.

But you have to have cover almost immediately. One bad solar flare, everyone eats 20 grays and everbody dies horribly.

Now, you may be thinking -- what about the ~400 days getting there when you're out of the Earth's magnetosphere? What if the Sun gets angry then?

That's also a major problem. Probably the only workable way to deal with it, given mass constraints, is a "shadow shield" -- a very small but dense rad shield that can only protect a square degree or so of the sky. If you detect a flare, you point that right at the sun and you're in the shadow -- the radiation is emitted from the Sun, that's the way you have to block.

Shadow shields are also how we'll cope with nuclear power plants on manned spacecraft, but they'll live between the reactor and the crew compartment. They can still protect against solar radiation, but you'll probably have to shut down the reactor because if you're pointing it at the sun, your probably not going to be thrusting in the correct direction.

Trannnsssparent aluuuminum?!

REALLY bad idea, that. Hit aluminum with neutrons, it becomes a different isotope, one that tends to be quite the gamma emitter. So, it protects you against the neutron flux -- and kills you with gammas instead. We discovered this learning how to deal with plutonium's complicate allotropes, which have very different densities. Imagine, if you will, that you're machining a hunk of plutonium, it gets a little warm (320°K) and it changes to the δ allotrope -- and because that allotrope is 2g/cm2 less dense, it expands.

Yeah. They found that if they alloyed it with aluminum, it would stabilize in the δ phase at room temps and above. This is when they then discovered the nasty properties of aluminum isotopes. They finally hit on a better answer -- gallium, which would do the same thing and when it was radio activated, it became an alpha emitter like plutonium itself, so it wasn't any more dangerous. And thus...well, all the nuclear bombs in the world. I never said we always learn good things...

The best shielding is multilayered and dense. The best shielding is also very massive, and thus, very very very very very expensive to bring to Mars. The second best shielding, however, is just massive, and there's a lot of mass on mars, so tunnels work.

Another good shield is water -- but, again, it's very dense, thus, very massive, thus, very very expensive and we can't afford to carry it around as just a shield, and probably can't afford to carry enough to be an effective shield.
posted by eriko at 8:03 AM on November 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't believe that we need to cease all space exploration until every problem on Earth is solved. We can make efforts in more than one area at a time.

Possibly not, but my response was to the idea that there is a practical justification for space exploration, which has something to do with the survival of the human species. I don't think there is a reasonable argument that there is. People want to do space exploration, I get that (truth be told, so do I), but that's because it's cool, not because it's practical. I also don't think that Elon Musk's more practically significant endeavours have anything to do with the question of whether exploration is a justifiable endeavour; I'm not criticising him personally.

There are, of course, lots of worse ways to spend money and human potential than space exploration, and we see them everywhere (from superyachts to overpackaging and a billion things in between). It's definitely one of the better frivolities that a billionaire could enjoy.
posted by howfar at 8:38 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


It doesn't have anything directly to do with colonizing or terraforming Mars but the possibility of mining, ore processing, and manufacturing outside of Earth's biosphere makes it seem like space exploration isn't entirely irrelevant to the environmental problems you bring up.
posted by XMLicious at 8:51 AM on November 10, 2015


Well if I were space-boss I'd be pushing hard for asteroid capture. One with water and one with steel. With raw materials and reaction mass just boosting workers into orbit to manufacture stuff probably becomes vastly more cost effective. If you can afford even a small constant acceleration (water for plasma engine) the trip to mars or anywhere in the solar system becomes realistic. Build prefab building parts and equipment in space and drop them onto mars in volume and surviving there gets vastly better odds.

Once there are a bunch of folks looking down at the planet I really expect some existing problems to be viewed in ways that bring new solutions.

As for redirecting all the space programs funds to foods and it barely makes a dent, and cynically most of that dent would end up in some secret numbered account anyway.
posted by sammyo at 8:52 AM on November 10, 2015


A few of my friends who work in aerospace have noted that this seems to be having a strong downward pressure on salaries. So many people want to work at SpaceX that the compensation kind of sucks, which is subsequently having ripples throughout the rest of the industry.

It would seem the ripple effects would be favorable for workers in the rest of the industry, as SpaceX seems to draw lots of people away on their cachet alone. SpaceX gets to pick from a vast pool, the rest of the industry needs to sweeten the deal to get access to those potential employees. Supply and demand once again?

SpaceX does seem to have been hiring a lot in recent times. I don't know if they are a union shop here in CA.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:00 AM on November 10, 2015


It would seem the ripple effects would be favorable for workers in the rest of the industry, as SpaceX seems to draw lots of people away on their cachet alone. SpaceX gets to pick from a vast pool, the rest of the industry needs to sweeten the deal to get access to those potential employees. Supply and demand once again?

Sadly, the real world is not an Econ 101 textbook.

Also, I think we DO need to solve some real, pressing problems here on earth before we spend billions on sending a few inconsequential people to space. We (humans) can pursue more than one aim at a time, but there ARE tradeoffs and it's not silly to acknowledge that. Those dollars and that time and that mental energy could be spent elsewhere, and saying you're cool with it being spent on a Mars boondoggle essentially means you're cool with human sacrifice for the "cool" factor of it. Yes, I know my First World lifestyle makes me complicit.

I am the life of the party.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:15 AM on November 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


It would seem the ripple effects would be favorable for workers in the rest of the industry, as SpaceX seems to draw lots of people away on their cachet alone.

That's pretty much what is happening. SpaceX gets a bunch of engineers who will work for less money because "Musk is Ironman!". The good engineers jump ship (no pun intended) because Musk is an asshole, and those guys make a bunch more money.

A family friend works at Virgin Atlantic, and apparently all the "rocket" engineers are disgruntled former SpaceX guys. The new Faraday car company is full of disgruntled former Tesla engineers. I wouldn't be surprised if much of the residential solar industry is run by disgruntled former Solar City engineers.
posted by sideshow at 9:27 AM on November 10, 2015


Do you really think they're going to get there and then say "Oh, I guess we should have made a plan?"

It's got to be on their list of things to do before departure. I think it's more likely that by the time they get there ("there" being a healthy Mars settlement worthy of being called a colony) the people of Mars will remember Elon Musk as the ancient prophet who founded their expansionist space-religion 1200 years ago but was killed in a tragic hyperloop accident before he could fly there himself to prevent the onset of the Dull Age which set back the development of space travel by a thousand years.
posted by sfenders at 9:30 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Quit talking about terraforming Mars. Unless you can restart the core and get the magnetosphere working you'll just lose the atmosphere all over again. Habitats, and only habitats, forever.
posted by aramaic at 9:32 AM on November 10, 2015


That's pretty much what is happening.

Maybe the real world IS an Econ 101 textbook. My life is a lie.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:34 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Elon Musk is a superhero character in the new Neal Stephenson novel. It was about that time that I realized I no longer related to Neal Stephenson as an author.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:34 AM on November 10, 2015


Quit talking about terraforming Mars. Unless you can restart the core and get the magnetosphere working you'll just lose the atmosphere all over again.

Sounds like something a continuous stream of artificial comets arriving from an ice giant could fix for a few hundred thousand years.
posted by XMLicious at 9:43 AM on November 10, 2015


I, too, am concerned that all of this hype over Musk and SpaceX is distracting us from the true technical challenge here on Earth: building a space elevator, and then O'Neill cylinders, in orbit.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:20 AM on November 10, 2015


rabble rabble off this rock rabble rabble star trek rabble rabble eggs in one basket rabble rabble rabble destiny rabble rabble

Are eggs are pretty much designed for only one basket. You can put'em somewhere else if you like, but it looks like they're going be boiled and not in a good way.

But, but.. Future magical technology that hasn't been invented yet! Blithe ignorance of the laws of physics! False comparison to ocean exploration!


Yes, I guess cowardice and small-mindedness are the easier poses to take.

There will always be people happy to sit on the sidelines and sneer and laugh. I imagine if there was a MetaFilter in the Victorian era these posters would be laughing at anyone dreaming of flying machines.

I'll quote from that NYT editorial dismissing space flight since it seems to perfectly match the LOL DO YOU EVEN PHYSICS comments in this thread:
"That Professor Goddard, with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react -- to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."
posted by Sangermaine at 10:23 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Those dollars and that time and that mental energy could be spent elsewhere, and saying you're cool with it being spent on a Mars boondoggle essentially means you're cool with human sacrifice for the "cool" factor of it. Yes, I know my First World lifestyle makes me complicit.

NASA has about $6 billion estimated as the cost to Mars. Musk has talked about something like $5 billion for the MCT. This is probably spread out over a decade or so. The total annual budget of NASA is just under 18 billion.

In proportion, the movie industry made just under 90 billion last year, world-wide. I could quote a whole list of other industries too: McDonalds alone makes not quite double the NASA budget each year, for example.

Somehow, it's always the choice to kill the space program to solve "real problems". These are small bets, eeked out on the margins in the grand scheme of things, not massive diversions of resources from essential service delivery (that's the US military). If I had to choose, I'd forgo the movie Iron Man (or Big Macs), if it means the real-world Musk can get a colony going on Mars.
posted by bonehead at 10:28 AM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Much of the brainpower in the world is now devoted to making mind controlling classified advertisements, extracting rents, or inserting transaction costs into finance. Trying to build new things around physical limitations is heroic by comparison. /not Musk fanboi
posted by benzenedream at 10:30 AM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


If I had to choose, I'd forgo the movie Iron Man (or Big Macs)

Me, too! I mean, I don't go see Iron Man, and I don't eat Big Macs. Nobody writes hagiographies about Ray Kroc or Hollywood moguls, though, except for people who wouldn't give a shit about "real problems," (Flippancy again! Sorry, folks, your problems don't matter compared to SPACE.) anyway.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:35 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's kind of funny how nerds get all starry-eyed about SPACE and SCIENCE when even NdT straight up admits that NASA was not ever about the science, but about winning the Cold War and fuck you, USSR.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:37 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just cross out USSR and pencil in global warming, problem solved.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:04 AM on November 10, 2015


Wow, *even* our Lord and Savior Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose will is law? I guess we'll have to alter our thoughts then.

And if "impure" motives like politics or money were enough to render things not worth believing in or hoping for or trying to achieve, there would be very few human activities left. So what if the space program was a political program at heart? It did great things. The Internet was a military research effort too.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:08 AM on November 10, 2015


Now a NASA is about double an NSF*. If we were to put all the money sunk in the ISS into science grants, that might be a reasonable choice. But, you know, it would probably be spent on something essential like a couple more fighter jets instead.

*and more than 100 NEAs but that's an argument for another day.
posted by bonehead at 11:09 AM on November 10, 2015


Metafilter: It's kind of funny how nerds get all starry-eyed
posted by Fleebnork at 11:10 AM on November 10, 2015


This is beyond "digging a few holes". It's a whole other level of engineering effort that not be glibly waved away as 'no big deal'.

If there is water there (and there is) a few cm of ice is sufficient radiation shield. Or if you don't want to use ice and you don't want to make holes, you can sandbag regolith. Nothing is simple on a dead planet, but there are lots of workable ideas, so glibly waving it all away as too difficult isn't useful either.

Quit talking about terraforming Mars. Unless you can restart the core and get the magnetosphere working you'll just lose the atmosphere all over again

Non-issue. Without a magnetosphere, the atmosphere will be eroded over 100 million years (again). That is largely inconsequential. There are much more important challenges.
posted by anonymisc at 11:15 AM on November 10, 2015


Those dollars and that time and that mental energy could be spent elsewhere, and saying you're cool with it being spent on a Mars boondoggle essentially means you're cool with human sacrifice for the "cool" factor of it.

Our economics and our civilization is currently unsustainable, and unless we fix that, we lose it all. One of the big reasons we're making very little progress in fixing that is that it's an abstract faraway problem, and we're just not very good at that kind of problem, regardless of whether it's an existential threat.

But a Mars (or moon) colony... that's a concrete problem. It's a here&now thing that we are cognitively equipped to grapple with. At millions more dollars per resupply, the economics would hopefully start to diverge from the ISS model and align to put figuring out sustainability as really really important.

I don't think it's all that speculative to say that if we figure out how to permanently live on Mars, we will in the process discover and learn the things we need to learn to be able to live on Earth.

More speculatively, I wonder if we can figure out how to live on Earth without going to Mars. Because right now, we're not even addressing the fundamentals, and time is running out.
posted by anonymisc at 11:26 AM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'll quote from that NYT editorial dismissing space flight

To which does this particular Mars Colonization Plan seem more analogous? Goddard's crazy idea that rockets could propel themselves across space to visit the planets? Or his crazy idea that we could thereby establish communication with the alien intelligences that live on those planets? Will we find out, or will humanity remain in suspense forever when our favourite billionaire runs out of money? Only time will tell.

It's going to cost hundreds of times the budget of Iron Man though, even according to some of Elon Musk's wild guesses based on little more than how much he thinks people are willing to spend, so I'm just saying they better put on a really good show.
posted by sfenders at 11:29 AM on November 10, 2015


I, too, believe that before we get rush into something as pie-in-the-sky as Martian colonization, we should spend some time colonizing the Earth's seas and Polar regions with arcologies. Or at least an subterranean city deep within the crust, powered by geothermal energy.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:37 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


If funding becomes a problem, all he has to do is open up a tourist resort on the moon with regular shuttle service to earth and he'd have a license to print money. It'd also be an easy testbed for whatever domes, caves, etc they plan for Mars.

I agree that we should spend more time figuring out the harsh environments here on earth first though. Sell the idea to preppers! Win-win!
posted by Feyala at 11:41 AM on November 10, 2015


I'll quote from that NYT editorial dismissing space flight since it seems to perfectly match the LOL DO YOU EVEN PHYSICS comments in this thread:
"That Professor Goddard, with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react -- to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."
This is survivorship bias. You're ignoring all of the ambitious technological proposals that did turn out to be physically infeasible in favor of your one positive case.
posted by invitapriore at 11:43 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]




I, too, believe that before we get rush into something as pie-in-the-sky as Martian colonization, we should spend some time colonizing the Earth's seas and Polar regions with arcologies. Or at least an subterranean city deep within the crust, powered by geothermal energy.

The closest we've ever come to doing this have been projects for learning how to live on Mars.
A serious attempt at Mars ensures these things will happen - they're a necessary part of the process.

But without a Mars attempt, I'm not sure they'll happen at all.
posted by anonymisc at 12:15 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love all of the people here who are finding flaws in every theoretical plan to establish life on another planet... all the while completely forgetting the fact that in less than 125 years of flight we managed to put a robot on a planet that we can barely see with the naked eye.

Do ya hear that bluesies?!? A ROBOT, ON ANOTHER PLANET.

Can you imagine what craziness they'll be able to think of by the time that we actually figure out the whole interplanetary travel thing? Clearly this isn't something that will be our lifetime... but the number of people criticizing theoretical plans is mind-numbingly absurd.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:40 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


http://rinkworks.com/said/predictions.shtml

Upping the number of positive cases doesn't amend the failure to consider the negative ones. Anyway, trying to argue about the physical feasibility of a proposed technology by trying (sloppily) to make an induction argument on human dismissiveness seems like a tacit admission that you don't actually know enough to argue in terms of the relevant domain. I don't either, but then I'm not the one smugly saying "lol haters GOOGLE THE WRIGHT BROS."
posted by invitapriore at 12:42 PM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The reason he is doing this is to sell the securities. This fellow is very clever but at the core he is a con man. It is his existential essence.

If I worked at the SEC I would be watching this guy like a hawk.
posted by bukvich at 1:03 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


"...the number of people criticizing fantasizing about theoretical plans is mind-numbingly absurd."
posted by sneebler at 1:20 PM on November 10, 2015


Elon Musk makes me think of one of those bizarre future industrialist characters from a Philip K Dick novel, like Palmer Eldritch or somebody. Like he's an American entrepreneurial myth come to life, an extra-dimensional emanation of some vague and ambiguously benevolent/malevolent alien life form, possibly a deep cover CIA operative, and an exceedingly clever marketing scam all rolled up in one. For years I thought he had something to do with cologne. But he seems to be trying to solve real problems and I kind of suspect the real surprise might be that under all the hype and glitz, and the overwhelming stink of his economic privilege, his heart's more or less in the right place. But then I used to think VWs were honest, well-engineered cars, so take my opinion here with a grain of salt.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:22 PM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've said it before, I'll say it again. The Three Stigmata of Elon Musk Palmer Eldritch ought to be required reading for anyone who finds themselves taking Mars colonization seriously. Because even if you solved all the tech-challenges and actually got a colony of humans "safely" ensconced on the red planet, there would still be great vast interplanetary magnitudes of boredom and alienation to deal with ... forever.
posted by philip-random at 1:31 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


How do you discover if a technological proposal is physically infeasible or not, without trying it first? Isn't experimentation part of the scientific method?
posted by Apocryphon at 1:33 PM on November 10, 2015


This is beyond "digging a few holes".

Yes, I know, Mr Literal. I was attempting to make what's called 'a joke'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:38 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


How do you discover if a technological proposal is physically infeasible or not, without trying it first?

Perhaps by thinking about it a little? That's what Elon Musk famously does, isn't it? Some questions readily come to mind.

Somewhere in the copious volume of anecdote, rumour, and speculation, it's mentioned that they did actually plan to build transparent domes early on in the Mars settlement process. How large, and of what will they be constructed? Not aluminum, clearly. But nobody seems to have the slightest idea what they are planning. Will they grow crops under these domes on the surface but house people in underground tunnels? We can only guess. Musk says the idea is to "recreate the entire industrial base on Mars", so where exactly would you start? Which industrial processes would come first, how would they be run, which of their exhaust gasses would be vented to atmosphere and which recycled? Just a rough outline of the first few years worth of development would do. What kind of atmosphere would you have in inhabited areas, what pressure? Would it be shared with agriculture as well? How would it be regulated? What level of radiation exposure are your colonists going to aim for, and how will they manage it? What level of ecology would you want to have, say in the first ten years? What crops would grow in what kind of soil, with how much margin for experimentation and need for luck? Does the recent evidence that Martian soil is all filled with perchlorates change the plan at all? What other surprises are likely to be waiting? Is there going to be a years-long surveying phase to find out which areas of Mars can provide useful resources? What would it hope to find, and how much would the plan change depending its results?

Some clear indication that basic questions like these have been addressed, even in a vague and provisional sort of way, would probably still be a long way from a really credible plan, but could perhaps move some of us to react with something other than ridicule.
posted by sfenders at 1:51 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, *even* our Lord and Savior Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose will is law? I guess we'll have to alter our thoughts then.

I brought it up because his recent Cosmos series is the most science cheerleadery thing I could think of (and it certainly got me misty-eyed more than once).

And if "impure" motives like politics or money were enough to render things not worth believing in or hoping for or trying to achieve, there would be very few human activities left.

The point is that without the politics the space program wouldn't have happened. Where is the motivator this time? Dewey-eyed science love isn't going to be enough. What's Musk's angle? He doesn't seem evil enough to need the Carnegie-like soothing of conscious through public works.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:52 PM on November 10, 2015


Existential Dread: "And the Hyperloop thing was grade A bullshit."

Yeah. This one is really hard to overlook.

Musk has to be smart enough to know that it's bullshit.

He also owns a car company, so the unfortunate conclusion seems to be that he's fairly aggressively promoting the the concept in bad faith. I just don't see any other conclusion that you can possibly draw -- the project is patently absurd, and the costs that he's given are clearly unrealistic. Musk is trying to poison the well of public transportation.

I like the guy a lot. But I really can't reconcile anything about the hyperloop in a way that looks favorable to Musk.
posted by schmod at 2:03 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some clear indication that basic questions like these have been addressed, even in a vague and provisional sort of way, would probably still be a long way from a really credible plan, but could perhaps move some of us to react with something other than ridicule.

I think you're getting ahead of things. There is clear indication that basic questions like these are being addressed. They're not trivial questions, and the process of investigating them is a long and slow and ongoing one.

When you say "credible plan", you seem to mean a plan in which the big questions are already broadly solved. In my line of work, we often go ahead with projects for which the technology required does not exist and many of the problems we will face are unknown and unpredictable and it's just the nature of pushing into unexplored territory. But we start work, and when we hit a problem that no-one has ever hit before, we start inventing. Concurrently, we are developing the technology that we expect will be needed, but we also expect that our expectations will not match reality and we will need to constantly veer in new directions.

It is bizarre to me the way you seem to separate the process into first requiring a credible plan full of solutions before acting. Acting is where those solutions come from. That credible-plan-first approach might build you a house, but it will paralyze you from getting to Mars. A plan as credible as you describe often doesn't come together until a project is more than halfway done. The slow process of finding solutions and investigating whether they can work is the project, not the precondition for it.
posted by anonymisc at 2:09 PM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think the hyperloop idea's been good, actually. Multiple groups of students/research departments are building test tracks and studying the idea. These groups have the same kind of excitement you see around wind tunnels, accelerators, rocket clubs, and so on. I think we're going to see some practical applications come from it and the university/grant money isn't worse spent than if it went to other physics/transportation problems.

The cost estimate is certainly too low given undiscovered requirements and rights issues but doesn't mean that cheaper, better public transportation is impossible.
posted by michaelh at 2:18 PM on November 10, 2015


He also owns a car company, so the unfortunate conclusion seems to be that he's fairly aggressively promoting the the concept in bad faith. I just don't see any other conclusion that you can possibly draw

This seems like generic conspiracy-theory cognitive failure to me; if you look at his car company, it is not at all structured or positioned where it would benefit from a poisoning of public transport. I could maybe see it with some companies, but Tesla's products? Maybe you're thinking about how public rail was dismantled in LA and making a connections with that?

Musk is trying to poison the well of public transportation.

Regardless of motives or feasibility, remember that the hyperloop concept takes aim at the commercial airline industry, not buses or Amtrak.
posted by anonymisc at 2:28 PM on November 10, 2015


Where is the motivator this time?

Because sadly, throwing money at giant phallic-shaped missiles and appealing to nationalism (American science!) is more likely to engage the public's interest and imagination, than changing our car culture and moving away from fossil fuels. That is, fleeing the planet from the effects of climate change will actually be a politically viable motivator for space colonization in a few decades.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:29 PM on November 10, 2015


it's just the nature of pushing into unexplored territory.

Pushing into the unexplored with the goal of exploring it, of seeing what's there, investigating what it might be good for, facing the unknown, overcoming its challenges, seeing what we're capable of, and et cetera, sounds like an admirable plan. Going into the same unpredictable territory, a hundred million miles beyond any frontier previously settled, where literally no-one has set foot before, with the intent of building condominiums for a million people there, that's what seems a mite too far on the delusional side of bravery.
posted by sfenders at 2:33 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


that's what seems a mite too far on the delusional side of bravery.

Ooh, got it; a traditional way to achieve the impossible is to tell engineers that it's impossible and they can't do it. I see you're playing the long game. :-)

I think his proposal was a wedge - get a tiny foothold, and figure out how to grow it. You can't look me in the eye and tell me that people don't have quite the track record of establishing precarious footholds and figuring out how to grow them. :)

That "million people" thing was nothing more than his guess at what might be needed for an independant self-sustaining advanced civilization that does not need (but benefits from) a civilization alive on Earth. That's so much further down the road that it's barely worth worrying about when talking about colonizing Mars. Solve some much more basic problems and it could happen naturally and gradually as a function of (large amounts of) time. Don't solve those basic problems and it's irrelevant.
posted by anonymisc at 2:46 PM on November 10, 2015


I think the hyperloop idea's been good, actually. Multiple groups of students/research departments are building test tracks and studying the idea.

and

Regardless of motives or feasibility, remember that the hyperloop concept takes aim at the commercial airline industry, not buses or Amtrak.

I agree that it makes a very interesting basic research project. It was proposed at the time when funding for high speed rail was being debated and voted on in CA, and was inserted into that debate as a viable alternative technology. Granted, as much by the press as by Musk himself. I read the proposal when it was released, and the major red flags to me were the lack of any references, and the throwaway sentence near the end where it was stated that small scale tests were needed to prove out the physics. So, you've just tossed a basic research project on which you've done zero design engineering or experimentation into the public debate around needed public transit infrastructure and represented it as a viable alternative. Bullshit.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:27 PM on November 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


That's so much further down the road that it's barely worth worrying about when talking about colonizing Mars.

A million people or a thousand, either way seems a long way down the road, or perhaps on a different road entirely, with a thousand problems to solve and things to discover to come first. If it's premature to think about any details of how exactly people would live there, then it's premature to talk about colonizing Mars as if it's an actual thing that's going to happen now. Visiting the planet, exploring it, finding out if there's anything there to make it worth trying to colonize it, that should come first.

There's lots of other things a more plausible, exploration-oriented pitch for Mars might include. Do some prospecting. Figure out the geology. Drill some wells. Find out how people like living in that amount of gravity. See if there's any life. Meanwhile, see if you can develop some kind of fuel that burns in a CO2 atmosphere to power Martian construction equipment. Get good at running mostly closed-system ecologies. Figure out what materials science can do with whatever resources Mars provides. Any manned mission is going to be of a sufficient duration and level of difficulty that much will be learned. Maybe get that done before getting too many wild ideas about people wanting to live there permanently. It could happen, but don't count on it before doing the basic research.
posted by sfenders at 3:39 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, you've just tossed a basic research project on which you've done zero design engineering or experimentation into the public debate around needed public transit infrastructure and represented it as a viable alternative. Bullshit.

As I see it, tossing in a concept with only the most basic engineering done is already doing more than can be reasonably asked of a citizen. It is not his job to do our work for us (if it would be government project) nor is it his job to do gratis R&D for a private company (if it would be a commercial project). Hyperloop is a respected citizen saying "I think the solutions being proposed are thinking inside a small box and we should consider thinking bigger. Here is something to chew on. I've sunk a little money into engineering studies, they suggest it's feasible. If you like the idea, you can have it."

The Golden Gate bridge was built in the 1930's using the crude tools and technology of a previous century. When I look at that structure, and then look today at 21st-century people saying things like "high-speed rail is just too difficult!", I think Musk is right - we are thinking small, we lack ambition, even compared to our own recent history. I'm not opposed to 21st century ideas being studied. I'm not opposed to my taxes paying for R&D. I am opposed to people wringing their hands saying that problems are too difficult and let's not try. I think we can aim for magnificent, and I think we should.
posted by anonymisc at 3:52 PM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


If it's premature to think about any details of how exactly people would live there, then it's premature to talk about colonizing Mars as if it's an actual thing that's going to happen now. Visiting the planet, exploring it, finding out if there's anything there to make it worth trying to colonize it, that should come first.

Regardless of whether you are right or I am right, the first steps do indeed involve visiting the planet. And this is something that SpaceX is working towards. So, good for them. (And us.)
posted by anonymisc at 4:08 PM on November 10, 2015


Seriously though SpaceX, good work with the building rockets stuff. Somehow they got me watching launches on TV this past year, for the first time since the 1980's.
posted by sfenders at 4:39 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where is the motivator this time?

For Space-X, making money. Musk is motivated by profit. Competition for commercial launches and NASAs priority projects (which right now means ISS resupply).

He is able to talk about going to Mars because quite a number of people have convinced Congress that that's what they should be doing. If the political climate were not right, I suspect he would do something else. But he can, and if a CEO has one job, it's to sell his product.
posted by bonehead at 4:41 PM on November 10, 2015


Musk is motivated by profit.

I've only read of people who know him suggesting otherwise; that he sees profits as a means to enable his ends. Do you have any kind of character reference that suggests he's motivated by money?

It also flies in the face of his actions. The worst way to chase profits, is to try to launch a new car company. That's how you lose money. No new car companies succeed. Same goes for developing commercial spaceflight.
If you are motivated by profit, you run screaming away from sectors like that.

Not only that, IIRC, electric cars were neither cool nor profitable when Musk was getting into them, they were a joke. The political climate was not right, and he didn't do something else.

Did you read the articles? As he tells it, he got into spaceflight because of the Mars Society, not the other way around. I haven't heard a dissenting source. Do you know something you're not telling? (Or do you mean that he wants a Mars colony so bad that he's prepared to be a salesman to raise the money he needs to do that? I think everyone agrees with that :))
posted by anonymisc at 4:55 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


And the Hyperloop thing was grade A bullshit.

Hey, don't be crapping on my idea.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:59 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, I finally got an hour to sit down and read Part 4, and I loved it (with some small-to-medium caveats). Wasn't so much about Musk at all, and that was fine.

It actually really helped me in thinking about my own current hobby business project (which has been going less well than I'd hoped it might) from a slightly different perspective, an adjustment I needed very much to make. Huzzah!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:21 PM on November 10, 2015


As he tells it, he got into spaceflight because of the Mars Society, not the other way around. I haven't heard a dissenting source.

Sure. The logic behind this is explained in the last part. Musk has goals. He prioritizes things based on what is possible, and where he feels he can be effective. He doesn't do stuff related to his five big goals where he feels he can't do better than what's already being done.

He is motivated by profit because profit means he has the tools to get closer to his goals. He's not interested in abstracts (he'd have gone into research otherwise), he's interested in results. Profits means he can achieve results and his reach grow bigger.

Tesla's strategy is the clearest example of this strategy, an inverted pyramid of revenue growth. He started with the roadster. It was a high-end luxury sports car, selling for $130k or so. They sold 2500. There are very few people who can afford that for a new car, a new second car, but there are enough Valley VCs and petro-princes to afford a couple of thousand.

Those funds sustained the company through the next round of expansion, to build the the S. It sold near 100,000 vehicles (or will soon), at what $70k to $80k a pop? There are a lot more Valley senior engineers who are willing to pay that for a car, a daily driver, and lots of bankers and even doctors too.

With the pile of cash the S has brought in, Tesla is now ready, finally has the capacity to build millions of cars. So the next Tesla model will be cheaper yet and be that most popular of segments, an SUV. (They're building the X too, but that's to double-dip the roadster buyers again.) He's now close to fulfilling his business plan that he's been talking about since founding the company. This is a fifteen year (or so) strategy now in it's third act.

That's how Musk has always done things, find a niche, then grow it, each step expanding the niche and broadening it. To do that, he needs profits, be they from the electric car company, the solar company or Space-X. He has goals sure, but he doesn't, can't do anything about them unless and until he can make money doing it.
posted by bonehead at 6:46 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The thing that he's been talking about for fifteen years is to get our transport off fossil fuels. I think it fundamentally misrepresents that to say profit is his motivation rather than his tool.

I don't think we disagree on details, it just seems a really weird interpretation to me.
posted by anonymisc at 9:41 PM on November 10, 2015


That is, fleeing the planet from the effects of climate change will actually be a politically viable motivator for space colonization in a few decades.

Wait, people are going to flee the earth because of a temperature change of a couple of degrees over the next century to a place where the temperature swings over 100 degrees C every day?
posted by JackFlash at 10:08 PM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


There may be sandstorms on Mars, but at least no floods or hurricanes. Or other people killing them for resources.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:14 AM on November 11, 2015


it just seems a really weird interpretation to me.

That's because he is results-focused, on what he can do, and not goals-focussed, on what he should do (but perhaps can't). Stuff doesn't happen in his world unless he can make it work (he was/is too busy and too cash poor to do the hyperloop, imo, it's not that he didn't think it would fail). The motivating factor to do that is that it has to get buy-in for him to do that. A simple way to measure buy-in is money, thus operating profit is the focus.
posted by bonehead at 12:58 AM on November 11, 2015


Tesla Reliability Doesn't Match Its High Performance - Consumer Reports
The crazy thing is that the Model S doesn't really fit into the Consumer Reports worldview all that well. With Lexus/Toyota, you have a very long-established manufacturer making small incremental improvements to the product with a laser focus on reliability. With Tesla, you have tons of brand new technology and, to be fair, gee-whiz gadgets that make no sense in terms of reliability. So you do get a higher failure rate as they learn how to do some of those crazy tricks. The thing is that overall customer satisfaction scores remain through the roof, which is hard to fit into the Consumer Reports worldview because they have a simple rule that says if a car breaks more than an average car, they don't suggest you buy it. I contributed to them downgrading the car, even though I love it. My most recent service experience was for one of those annoying gadget breakdowns. The door where you plug in has a motor that automatically closes after you unplug and it failed, so I actually had to push it closed when I unplugged in the morning. Here's how it went: I called my service guy to tell him I needed it fixed, but it was no rush because there was an easy workaround. A few days later they drove a flatbed truck to my office with a temporary loaner Tesla on it. The service guy came into my office, traded keys with me and told me the loaner was parked next to my car. He loaded my car on the flatbed and drove to the service center. Once it was repaired, the reversed the process, delivering my car and taking their loaner back. It never affected my life at all. I never drove anywhere I wasn't going to anyhow, I never had any inconvenience at all. The net cost to me was maybe 6 minutes of time making the phone call and trading keys with the service guy at either end. It counted as a service problem which Consumer Reports used to mark them down, but it was a great experience that actually increased my support for the brand.
posted by Lame_username at 1:36 AM on November 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


anonymisc: "I think Musk is right - we are thinking small, we lack ambition, even compared to our own recent history. "

I agree, but in this case, the owner of a car company introduced the idea while the public was mulling over the idea of killing off California's biggest and most innovative transit project, and attached a price tag that wouldn't have even covered the land-acquisition costs.
posted by schmod at 4:39 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Has anyone read Ashlee Vance's book?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:43 AM on November 11, 2015


Those funds sustained the company through the next round of expansion, to build the the S. It sold near 100,000 vehicles (or will soon), at what $70k to $80k a pop? There are a lot more Valley senior engineers who are willing to pay that for a car, a daily driver, and lots of bankers and even doctors too.

Interesting note: While the Tesla Model S is seen in the US as a car for the affluent, it's apparently the #1 selling car in Norway, because the tax breaks and benefits for electric vehicles make it cost the same as mundane gasoline powered cars.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:38 AM on November 11, 2015


How much of Musk's success has been underwritten by government money?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:31 AM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


In Miami, the Model S is becoming easily as common as low-end Porsches. I see them out and about most every day. It's an expensive car, but it is an expensive car that a lot of people seem to feel provides a better experience and/or value proposition than similarly priced luxury sedans.

It'll never take over the baby BMW and baby Benzes that infest the roads here, but those are half the price, so are targeting a completely different segment of the market. They are usually leased by people earning relatively little and then sold on at fire sale prices (because they are a dime a dozen around here, thanks to the bazillion lease returns) to the not-very-affluent. That's why that particular class of car is as common as mosquitoes.

If Tesla had a $699 lease special, I guarantee they'd move 20,000 units a year or more down here. (Maserati was doing that for a while with the Ghibli, and now those are depressingly common sights)
posted by wierdo at 7:46 PM on November 11, 2015


How much of Musk's success has been underwritten by government money?

The LA Times says about $4.5 Billion. That's a big number, but: it's spread out over three companies (Tesla, Space-X and Solar City) in three sectors (automotive, aerospace and green power); it includes both commercial contracts to the government as well as tax breaks; and is a total, for all support over the last decade and the decade to come, not year on year spending.

For perspective, consider the $450B spent in the G20 last year on direct aid to the petroleum industry. In the US alone, that's about $20 Billion per year in direct subsidies, and another 4 or so in financing and loan guarantees (2013-14).

Numbers for aerospace are harder to come by, but Boeing alone has gotten at least $13 Billion in recent years, and that's not including contracts, just monetary subsidies and tax breaks, as far as I can tell. It is harder to add this up, because their biggest clients, the militaries of many NATO countries and allies, don't always report costs nicely. In any case, until very recently, they got a much bigger slice of the government pie than Space-X.

The automotive companies, of course, received a few billions of dollars in direct supports in 2008-9. While much of that has been paid back (though outside the US, there are different stories), it's in the same class of supports that is in the LA Times figures as well.

In perspective, Musk's enterprises are significant sinks of public dollars, but they're still smallish fry compared to the big companies in the markets he's trying to enter. Who would you rather tax dollars be spent on? The petroleum companies? The aerospace companies, the flag-bearers for the military industrial complex? The big automakers, who are too big to fail? Tesla is getting about as much money as it can handle, frankly. The challenges it faces now seem to be regulatory, technical and managerial.

The implication that public dollars are being wasted on for-profit business disregards the role governments have in encouraging sectors to provide essential services to government (like Space-X), develop industries with lower environmental burdens (Tesla and Solar City). It likewise disregards the idea that the government plays an economic role in stimulating business growth and job creation. Count up the number of jobs in Boeing, the auto and petroleum sectors. Look at what the average wages are. Those jobs are extremely important to maintaining a viable middle-class.

The idea that government generally should never play an economic role is, in my view, fundamentally a libertarian position, and ignores the value of public money being able to be used to benefit its own citizens, both directly through continued employment, and through the development of industries that reduce environmental impacts or create new possibilities.
posted by bonehead at 9:25 AM on November 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


The implication that public dollars are being wasted on for-profit business

That's a lot of words to rebut an implication you sort of made up. The guy gets a ton of hero worship from the libertarian tech crowd, but the idea that his businesses might well have been up shit crick without government money is basically never mentioned. I have absolutely no idea how you would have ever gotten the idea that I was anti-government spending from my extremely brief comment unless you went in predisposed to believe it. What I am is anti-Muskworship.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:58 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want to be in the space business at all, you pretty much have to sell to the government. Just like the companies who build highways, there's really one one customer that matters. So, the logic is that no one should ever start a company to build rockets? Or that it's hypocritical to see value in what his companies accomplish because some random Musk fans who work for SV startups are libertarians?

You said above: I think we DO need to solve some real, pressing problems here on earth before we spend billions on sending a few inconsequential people to space. Governments have to stack up those priorities all the time, and spending money on companies that meet policy goals are some of those. Sometimes they prop up big job creators like the petroleum sector and Boeing, but sometimes they make smaller bets on companies like Space-X and Tesla. Is the right answer for "real, pressing" problems simply to chuck more money at them to the exclusion of all else? Those monsters: health care, social spending to ameliorate poverty, climate change, have a tendency to grow uncontrollably unless new angles are found. Tesla, Solar City, and even the long-shot that is Space-X are working toward some of those goals.

Musk doesn't have to be personally likable (as Vance makes very clear) for there not to be a public benefit derivable form his work. Jobbs and Edison were assholes too.
posted by bonehead at 2:02 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


You are not even attempting to engage with what I am saying. Have fun.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:15 PM on November 12, 2015


At this point, i have literally no idea what you're saying.
posted by bonehead at 3:20 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


while i think musk is great, i keep thinking about vox's politics explainer for wait but why; like 'political reality' seems to still be missing from the analysis, which i think is a huge blindspot that radically narrows the 'goal pool' of the want/reality venn diagram without taking into account all the 'messy politics' of actually building coalitions -- like i think he too easily dispatches/doesn't adequately capture that "the real story here isn't Musk. It's us..." (dogma and tribalism are quickly dismissed with 'because reasoning') -- as roberts points out: "politics is nonetheless the eye of the needle through which his enterprises must pass on their way to the promised land."

figuring out how to thread this particular political needle seems just as heroic a task as becoming some schopenhauerian master chef!
The demographics that tend Democrat — minorities, single women, young people, LGBTQ folks, academics, and artists — cluster in the "urban archipelago" of America's cities. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has increasingly become the voice of white people who live around other white people in rural and suburban areas, where they have been radicalized by burgeoning right-wing media and a network of ideologically conservative think tanks and lobbying groups.

It is not surprising that small-government ideology appeals to people who view government as a mechanism whereby special interest groups make claims on their resources, values, and privileges. Conservative whites, freaked out by hippies in the '60s, blacks in the '70s, communists in the '80s, Clintons in the '90s, Muslims in the '00s, and Obama more recently, are now more or less permanently freaked out, gripped by a sense of "aggrieved entitlement," convinced that they are "losing their country." (If only someone would come along and promise to make it great again!)

As the GOP has grown more demographically and ideologically homogeneous, it has become, in the memorable words of congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, "a resurgent outlier: ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."

As the ongoing Republican primary is revealing in gruesome detail, asymmetrical polarization seems a long way from burning itself out.
No Cost for Extremism
In short, Republicans have found a serious flaw in the code of American democracy. What they have learned is that our distinctive political system—abetted by often-feckless news media—gives an extreme anti-government party with a willingness to cripple governance an enormous edge. Republicans have increasingly united two potent forms of anti-statism: ideological and tactical. And they have found that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts...

As difficult as it surely will be, there is no substitute for restoring some measure of public and elite respect for government's enormous role in making society richer, healthier, fairer, better educated, and safer. To do that requires encouraging public officials to refine and express that case, and rewarding them when they do so. And it requires designing policies not to hide the role of government, but to make it both visible and popular. A tax cut that almost nobody sees, and which those who do see fail to recognize as public largesse, will make some Americans richer. It will not make them more trusting of government.

We are under no illusion about how easily or quickly our lopsided politics can be righted. But put yourself in the shoes of an early 1970s conservative and ask how likely the great right migration seemed then, when Richard Nixon was proposing a guaranteed income and national health insurance and backing environmental regulations and the largest expansion of Social Security in its history. Reversals of powerfully rooted trends that threaten our democracy take time, effort, and persistence. Yet above all they require a clear recognition of what has gone wrong.
also btw, re: 4 & 5 - 'artificial intelligence and reprogramming the human genetic code' :P
-Google Just Open Sourced TensorFlow, Its Artificial Intelligence Engine
-CRISPR-Cpf1/Humans 2.0/Meet one of the world's most groundbreaking scientists
posted by kliuless at 1:49 AM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Democrats and Republicans agree: If you can mine it in space, it’s yours
The bipartisan legislation boosts commercial space across the board.


This makes it sound like, if the bill is passed, you can go to Ceres and if you can plant your flag in such a way that it counts as "recovering" resources, you own the place.
posted by XMLicious at 9:30 AM on November 13, 2015


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