Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Why the US can beat China: The Facts about SpaceX Costs (spacex.com)
259 points by cwan on May 7, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments

Although it's a bit of an apple to oranges comparison Copenhagen suborbitals are on the trajectory to launching a human into space in around three years time. In a months time they'll have their first testflight from Bornholm in the baltic sea. They're doing this whole thing based on nothing but sponsors and goodwill. Their budget is around $8000 a month - orders of magnitude lower than spacex. They also built the worlds largest homemade submarine btw.

Until now they've developed solid rocket boosters, parachutes, recovery programs, astrouanut survival and cockpit, etc. etc. and have not run into major problems yet.

Some links:

Website: http://www.copenhagensuborbitals.com

Static test of solid rocket booster (110.000 HP): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g_xjGOJRws&feature=relat...

TEDx talk by Christian Von Bengtson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua9oGxNNGd0

All their technology is open source by the way.

Shameless plug: These guys survive on donations, and a few months ago I helped start a support organization to help them survive economicvally. It's $20 a month to be a member, and we really need more members so we can get these guys into space. If you feel this is a worthy cause and want to join send me an e-mail (it's in my profile). Our website is http://raketvenner.dk/ (currently only in Danish...)

Does Copenhagen Suborbitals reminds anyone a bit of "The Gun Club" in Jules Verne's "From Earth To The Moon"? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_the_Earth_to_the_Moon)

I've been following Copenhagen suborbitals. It's a great enthusiast club. Their submarine is really neat but is certainly not a commercial submarine, nor are the subs built by Columbian drug runners using similar technology and sophistication.

To say they are 3 years from launching humans into space is very amusing.

There is no chance they will be doing that in 3 years. No chance at all.

Crazy how far a bunch of Goons from Something Awful can go. Kudos to you all and wishes of great success!

Are you guys developing any kind of software?

I am a web developer, so I don't know much about C, but I am sure a lot of people here can help if you put a repository.

Just a head's up. If there are human lives involved and at risk based on software development, it is incredibly, incredibly important that the software go through the highest possible level of testing, including every possible codepath, every input partition, everything. If it crashes midflight due to a bug, there's about nothing you can do about it. And people will die.

Remember that when you're considering developing mission critical software. It is the most dangerous sort of software to write, and needs aggressively comprehensive testing.

I mean this in the most positive fashion possbile, so please don't take it as just snarky assholism:

It's that kind of thinking that would have prevented most of human achievement in the last few hundred years. If the people signing up to ride this open source rocket into space are aware of the risks, then let them take them. That doesn't mean don't put any care and testing into things, but don't turn into NASA when trying to innovate.

There's a difference between a risk-taking pioneering spirit, and needless stupidity.

There's also a difference between accepting the inherent dangers of primitive spaceflight, and being cavalier with people's lives.

I wouldn't consider the knowledge of proper mission-critical testing to be of any sort mission-critical scenario. You can choose to potentially put your people at risk, but I think those decisions should be left to the actual people who will be going up, and not to a person that wants to arbitrarily contribute to it like an open source project. Small patches can have huge consequences.

We (the support organization) only do financial and moral support :-)

But Copenhagen Suborbitals is pretty software heavy - uplinks, sensors, communications, ballistics, etc. require a lot of software. They're extremely busy right now preparing for the June launch, but I'll try to talk to them whether this would be a good idea. It seems like it to me, although safety might be an issue if you have someone "unknown" developing mission critical stuff.

Thanks for the idea!

"Mission Critical"

Like, literally.

How can they afford fuel on 8k per month?

A few reasons:

- They only make liveburns a few times a year.

- They experiment with different cheap fuels. One rocket ran on rubber and actually worked quite well.

- They're quite known around Denmark, so they get unbelievable prices on fuel from companies that want to be associated with the project.

It would be interesting to see what could be accomplished with alternative fuels. Although, the exhaust from something like rubber is probably not so good for the environment? Best of luck to them, thanks for the response.

Do you really think the shuttles solid fuel booster's chemical composition was chosen for it's environmental friendliness?

Depends on the type and the additives. If natural, then it's probably not all that bad if it burns cleanly. Although I'm guessing it's more likely to be synthetic, which puts you into problems. But then even that has to be taken with a grain of salt. Sulphur Dioxide emissions from vulcanized rubber might actually be beneficial to the environment if it's released in the stratosphere.

That is utter nonsense!

There is not the slightest difference between natural and synthetic fuels. Either one can be toxic or not.

And good luck even defining "natural". Crude oil is natural - so I guess it gets a free pass? Uranium is natural too.

I don't think you could pay me enough to climb on top of a solid booster stack (while there is little limit to how much I'd pay to go into space on a properly mature liquid fuel rocket).

You guys should do a kickstarter with each flight. Spondors get their photo taken into space or something.

We've thought about that, but the support organization is only a few months old, so we haven't quite gotten around to it yet.

An illuminating anecdote:

A while ago my friend from work was at an base where SpaceX would be launching from. However, during the launch an anomaly was discovered and the countdown was suspended. At this point all the Air Force people went home, since they were used to this sort of thing taking a week to sort out, but the SpaceX people quickly isolated the problem and the launch only ended up being delayed an hour.

I'm glad that SpaceX is so concerned with cost. It is sometimes hard for a company to stay focused on that when they get a government contract.

As for the rest, I would imagine when robots get good enough, then the incentive to use cheap labor in China drops and factories in the US become more economically viable.

I have often wondered whether free trade of goods has retarded the development of more sophisticated automation & robotics. What technology advancements have we missed out on when it's been cheaper to move manufacturing to China, rather than make capital investments at home?

Note that any decision to off-shore is distorted by a) limits to the free movement of labor and b) currency manipulation. So at the margin, you might replace an efficient domestic operation w/ an inefficient foreign process, and make up the difference in currency and labor cost arbitrage. In such cases, free trade of goods alone has a detrimental effect on technological progress. Or at least that's the speculation.

"I have often wondered whether free trade of goods has retarded the development of more sophisticated automation & robotics."

I doubt the effect has been that profound. From what I can see of the history of robots and automation, the choke point over the past 50 years has not been cheap labor, but expensive real-time computation. We only recently got CPUs that we could really do anything with. Even 320x200x15fps in black and white, a resolution you'd have a hard time actually "living" in as your only sensory input (and if humans find it hard, computers even moreso), is about a million things a second. When you've got processors running at 33MHz, it's hard to get very far, just as one example.

I don't mind. Sending manufacturing jobs overseas raises the standard of living there and introduces technology and industry to the region. The folks doing those jobs won't be stuck at that income level forever.

I think my standard of living is pretty good. If I could have super robots next decade, or I could have them in three decades after conditions around the globe have equalized a bit . . . well, I don't mind the wait.

True, it's probably better to forgo a degree of technological progress in some areas while the rest of the world catches up. And as it does, technological progress will still occur, just in different areas, like energy, transportation and computers. Health too, maybe.

Actually, I have no idea what industries will respond to growing prosperity w/ higher capital investment in technology--at the moment it seems to be computers, but I don't know how far to project that into the future. I know some people project it off to a singularity. Time will tell!

I imagine the responders here are not blue-collar. So its easy to say "I don't mind that guy's job going overseas, it appeals to my liberal philosophy". While they lose their house, we feel warm inside.

Yeah, nobody ever outsources technical work. ;)

I don't think anyone is ever entitled to work, whatever the industry. Especially if someone else wants to do the same work for cheaper -- be it with a machine or in another country.

If you tell me someone lost their job and is having a hard time supporting their family, I do feel compassion. But the tool I reach for is charity, not a free job.

It's not like there's a shortage of opportunity. If your skillset doesn't support your desired income -- especially if you find yourself unemployed -- go get some new skills. Whether it's reading a book about PHP or learning to repair refrigerators at the local community college, someone can pivot in a few months' time. (I wish this were more of an expected fallback; it seems like simple common sense to me.)

In the mean time, the rest of us have cheaper products, and are that much richer.

It might be possible to reach that goal without rapid destabilizing change. Some folks don't retrain as easy as us, and have a real hard time when we change society as fast and often as we do.

You know, I would normally let this sort of argument go, but you've stepped on a pet peeve of mine and it's been a while since it got some fresh air.

I dislike arguments that focus on a particular consequence producing a particular strain of human misery, and dare the reader to disagree at the risk of being cold-hearted. I find the argument inappropriately personal -- focusing as it does on the virtue and piety of the person. But mainly I find it . . . well, myopic. Near-sighted.

Take the outsourcing we're discussing. The suffering of the fellow who loses his job and maybe his house and has to move back in with his parents is one piece of the equation. The other piece is his counterpart in China who lives in worse conditions, and wants to work hard to improve life for him and his family, but lacks the opportunity.

And then there's the cheaper product itself. There's the company that makes more money, which affects its shareholders and stock prices, which in aggregate affects people's retirement accounts. Perhaps one of them is in danger of losing a house? And then there are the customers, who can now afford the cheaper product, or who can afford more other things because it is cheaper. Perhaps one of them is in a tight situation, too?

And that doesn't even include tertiary effects. Perhaps this cheaper product is used as a component for something else new. Perhaps a whole new technology becomes feasible now. Perhaps it changes the world. Where does that fit in the equation?

That's why the argument strikes me as myopic. Our notional blue collar worker may indeed be miserable, but who is to say his misery outweighs everyone else's? Why is he special? In fact, I find the reasoning to be kind of . . . maybe not exactly racist, but kind of people-ist in some way or another. I'm sorry for the guy, but I don't feel his concerns ought to trump anyone else's.

I'm not saying you shouldn't try to figure out the impact of decisions on people at large. But I am definitely saying to have respect for how incalculable it can be, and to at least think in terms of all the people you can see right off will be affected -- and not just one class of them.

I'm also saying to use the right tool for the job. As a rule of thumb, I like industry to make progress, and charity to relieve suffering. Not that there aren't exceptions -- I myself am advocating the establishment of industry in a region as a way to improve conditions, and I certainly see the value of non-profit research.

But usually I don't want the wires crossed. If you're worried about the suffering of folks who have lost jobs and are having trouble making ends meet, the right approach seems to me to start or assist a foundation that helps those sorts of folks financially and educationally (or whatever). Limiting the help to, say, textile manufacturing workers, and having the help come in the form of keeping their jobs at the expense of jobs for folks in other regions, and ignoring an economic opportunity and possibly retarding progress in general . . .

. . . well, that seems to me really inefficient. And kind of morally dubious, too.

The counterpoint to "yeah it would be better for the rest of the world to catch up" would be multiple free-trade zones with a common currency, free trade in goods and free movement of labor within each zone, and then tariffs between them. So the US would be one such zone, the EU another, etc. Lowering tariffs between zones would be conditional on greater freedom of movement and coordination of monetary policy. In theory, this would allow each zone to prosper while preserving some degree of social stability.

China operates this way today, and the US operated this way in the 19th century. Not sure why the US gave it up. One can site economic theories, but economists don't make policy, coalitions do, and I don't know who the members were.

You seem to imply that a blue collar worker in your country is somehow more important than a blue collar in another country. I'd take a liberal philosophy over scary nationalist tendencies any day.

Sure it has. But that's always been the case. Why didn't the Ancient Greeks have steam engines? Well they did! But since they had slaves, it was never worth developing them further.


20 AD isn't exactly ancient Greece, is it? That's Roman Empire territory. Of course, that doesn't really affect the point of your statement.

It's nice that we have freer enterprise and I'm happy to see SpaceX doing well, but China is pivoting hard. It's not a zero-sum game so it doesn't really matter who wins but they're not planning on being just the manufacturers forever. We have freer markets, but they have a big edge too in that they value education a lot more, especially now with the one child policy.

I see a black cloud looming for China. The "One Child" policy is making their age distribution very top-heavy (much more so that the U.S. "Baby Boomer" phenomenon). Also, two-thirds of men in China smoke (and over half of male doctors). Furthermore, as a populace gets richer, its diet tends toward eating more animal-based products and obesity and cancer rates rise. I see a very large health-care problem in China's future that will certainly slow down their economy.

Furthermore, as a populace gets richer, its diet tends toward eating more animal-based products and obesity and cancer rates rise. I see a very large health-care problem in China's future that will certainly slow down their economy.

Is this going to be a competitive advantage for India, with its high population of vegetarians?

The competitive advantage in India in the long term is that their population will be significantly younger than China.

> India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% hovers below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan; and, by 2030, India's dependency ratio should be just over 0.4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_India

In the other hand India is confronting other problems.

Here's a nice, and recent article, by Amartya Sen, comparing development in India and China:


Sen wrote the book "Development as Freedom" after winning the 1998 Economics Nobel prize. He's known for the general observation that famines occur seldom in democratic societies because politicians are at a gross level accountable for outrageous mismanagement of resource allocation.

These countries have had centuries to progress. Why now?

India got independence only in 1947. All growth till then made the British richer. Till the 1990s india had a strange cross breed b/w socialism and capitalism where large govt factories and govt organization employed most people and had low productivity.

One major gain was a strong focus on education many of them learning English. However most of it is rote learning centric. It is only in recent years that India has been able to make a place for itself in the BRIC economies.

Everywhere in the world has had millenia to progress. Progress appears to be the exception, not the rule, and to be somewhat splotchy in general.

At least in the obesity case, the larger problem is sugar not animal fat.

An American-style diet will bring that as well. However, China's system is well positioned to avoid the subsidies which caused the American obesity disaster.

China also has farm subsidies -- and like the US not always for the most healthy of foods. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870371690457613...) However, your point still stands because I'm not sure (and doubt) they subsidize corn to the extent the US does.

He may be referring to the claim that greater consumption of animal proteins, not fat, leads to higher incidence of cancer, heart disease, etc. It's a controversial claim, of course.

The Chinese government is banking on having a smarter working population being more valuable than a larger working population. With more and more blue-collar work being automated it will get harder to find jobs for everyone.

A link on the front page aptly illustrates China's coming population problem: http://www.economist.com/node/18651512

I'm not sure valuing education is enough. Japan didn't pass the US and it surely valued education more than the US. It is the combination of virtues and the chaos of individuals that allows the US to work. If the US gets its debt under control, I don't really see the "win" being China's. China is chaos adverse.

China has a significant population advantage and the US has a huge physical and social infrastructure advantage, but who is on top nominally is far less important than avoiding a Russia or Japan style collapse. The US and China are both having issues with letting their well connected elites fail. Taking risks is good for society but trying to get state support for risk taking causes huge market inefficiency and eventual failure.

PS: The specific US issues like healthcare, ridiculous military spending, and debt are still easily fixable as are China's corruption and Pollution issues the problem is forcing people who benefit and influence the current system to suffer. EX: Removing the mortgage interest subsidy would be a huge long term boon to the US but good luck getting that passed.

The difference I see here is that the governing coalition in America seems to be shrinking, while in China it seems to be growing. In a broad coalition, there are too many people to just buy off, so you have to invest in public goods that benefit the people generally. In a narrow coalition, supporters can be bought off directly, through government-enabled rent seeking and the like.

You might see evidence of a broadening coalition in China, with high investments in public infrastructure. You might see evidence of a shrinking coalition in America, with the failure to pass effective health care, patent and telecommunications reform, in favor of greater rent-seeking.

Not to say China doesn't have rent-seeking, not at all. It's arguably worse than the States, I'm sure. But the trajectories appear to be different.

Side note: in the Chinese village my wife is from, the central government is now paying for the construction of new land fill. Currently all trash gets thrown in the river, and it creates an awful mess. The local government would never come together to provide trash remove services, so the central government has stepped in. They recognize the intractability of the issue locally, and the strategic importance to do something about it nationally. It's encouraging to watch.

so broad coalitions are forced to favor the public interest, while narrow coalitions can afford to serve only their sponsors and ignore the public interest -- very interesting thesis.

Do you have any links to more detailed discussions of this theory?

I got the kernel of the idea from Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, in this podcast:


I'm sure you can find more material on the subject from there.

Since I heard this, I have found it very profitable to think of public policy in terms of coalitions.

Interestingly, one of Madison's arguments in favor of union at the Constitutional Convention was what that a United States would create broader coalitions, and thus a more stable government. This was to head off arguments at the time that republics had always been geographically limited, and any large state necessarily tended towards empire. (My source for that is Joseph Ellis, btw.)

Physical infrastructure in the US has not been heavily invested in for decades. China, on the other hand, is aggressively building up its infrastructure.

If the US waits until China's advantage from this becomes apparent, it'll probably be too late to catch up.

Yes, but the US infrastructure is largely intact and well maintained. We can keep building roads and bridges, but we don't need any more. We could rebuild our airports/seaports, but the impact there would be more efficient air travel, not the economic boom you get from the original port. Commuter rail is a pretty good option, but only in certain regional areas and perhaps some municipal areas. Libraries, jails, courthouses, schools -- maybe there are some projects there, but again I don't see those as leading to an economic boom.

I really don't see as many good options for infrastructure spending as a country like China has (who, let's be honest, is playing catch-up). Perhaps we could do something real crazy, like build a space elevator, to create new markets rather than trying to build stuff for the sake of building stuff.

First a little bit of anecdotal evidence:

I'm from Australia and I just finished a 10,000 mile road trip around your nation with some mates. I can assure you your road network is falling apart. A lot of the time I felt like I was driving in a 3rd world country. While it is evident that the US has invested a lot in infrastructure in the past they are certainly not well maintained. From my limited experience Illinois had the worse road conditions and New Mexico and Texas has the best.

Here's what the economist has to say:

"Total public spending on transport and water infrastructure has fallen steadily since the 1960s and now stands at 2.4% of GDP. Europe, by contrast, invests 5% of GDP in its infrastructure, while China is racing into the future at 9%."


"In 2008 the commission (National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission) reckoned that America needed at least $255 billion per year in transport spending over the next half-century to keep the system in good repair and make the needed upgrades. Current spending falls 60% short of that amount."

You can read more here: http://www.economist.com/node/18620944?story_id=18620944

Maybe you overvalue good road conditions because you've been driving so much.

china and india are investing in LFTR reactors. The US is going to look rather silly when the rest of the world starts producing massive amounts of cheap energy.

Physical infrastructure is more than just roads, and bridges. Fiber optics, and safe homes that people want to live in are both huge economic gains. The real secret to infrastructure is balancing utility with the cost to maintain vs simply building them. Unfortunately for China their demographics are in a rapid transition so they are going to be force to invest huge amounts of capital in new homes simply to keep up with changing customer demands. The US is facing similar issues based on long term energy trends, however that's a much more hypothetical issues so it's hard to predict what needs to be done.

Homes isn't really a strong point of the US. They are extremely cheaply built and leak temperature like a sieve.

What makes the US to work is too:

1)That USA is enormously resource rich, like natural gas,helium, oil, coal, enormous extensions with wood,cotton, cattle... while Japan has no resources at all.

2)That USA has an enormous population that is mobile(could move from west coast to east coast) speaking only one language while places like Europe or India has every country(or subcountry state) speaking its language and making not so easy the people to move(protectionism).

3) That USA got the world hegemony since WWII and everybody in the world needs dollars to buy oil, so USA can live from other countries work, just printing dollars.

While 1,and 2 will continue, 3 could end soon, because USA had abused so much it and is abusing it that things could change.

You may have #3 backwards (and also have the reason people want dollars backwards; it has very little to do with nominal oil pricing). I suggest reading http://mpettis.com/2011/05/is-it-time-for-the-us-to-disengag... for the former and any competent explanation of international trade mechanisms for the latter.

I'm going to keep that line in hand for the next 20 years: "China is pivoting hard". Anyone who's thinking of them as merely cheap labor for much longer is going to be very surprised.

It's not just that the robots need to be good enough - in fact they are already for most areas.

The problem is that using robots in manufacture involves large upfront capital costs, and that can be avoided using human labor.

COTS has proven that under the right conditions, a properly incentivized contractor — even an all-American one — can develop extremely complex systems on rapid timelines and a fixed-price basis, significantly beating historical industry-standard costs.

If the "right conditions" include having Elon Musk as CEO, then "proven" is probably a reasonable word.

Exactly. Don't get me wrong, this article is extremely inspirational. But I doubt if there are more than a couple dozen people in America talented enough to pull this off. And, similarly, the vast majority of people in the government aren't capable of recognizing who the people this talented are, or if they are then they are unable to act on it.

SpaceX gives me hope that we can become a space-faring nation once again. The added bonus is that it is private industry doing it, not the behemoth bureaucracy that NASA has become.

I don't want to sound too pessimistic but the trend in China is towards more free market capitalism whereas the opposite is happening in the US. Of course, trends can change and China is still far behind in terms of economic liberty.

That 300Million figure to develop Falcon 9 seems stunningly low. Fascinating stuff.

I've always wondered why rocket development should be nearly as expensive as NASA makes it sound. It's mostly a plumbing problem, surely -- pump the fuel to the right place and let it burn. I'm sure there are a few added complexities, but the tricky bits were all figured out decades ago.

Hey, now. Rockets have gimbals and nozzles and aerodynamic considerations. Rocket Science may not be as tough as NASA makes it out to be, but it definately involves advanced math and control systems and stuff like that.

Calling it as a plumbing problem is like calling software engineering a typing problem.

Winning the world 100m is just about running faster. A Nobel prize is won if you think just a little bit harder... Pushing the envelope has always been heroically hard and always will be.

SpaceX aren't pushing any envelopes. They're just doing what has already been done for decades, but for a lower price.

Edit: Instead of downvoting, how about replying? There are only 3 clauses above, so you can just say which one of those clauses is wrong and why.

"SpaceX aren't pushing any envelopes. They're just doing what has already been done for decades, but for a lower price."

Logical fallacy. The fact that the differences in output are only quantitatively different doesn't mean that the differences in process aren't qualitatively different.

Do you consider the IBM PC something that pushed the envelope? Sometimes disrupting an industry by making its products available at a dramatically lower cost is just as much a push to the envelope in the real world as a new discovery. (Other examples include firms like 23andme etc)

Look at the comment I was replying to[1]. The author of that comment was using "pushing the envelope" to mean running faster in the 100m dash or winning a Nobel prize. Disrupting an industry, as SpaceX are doing, is extremely worthwhile, but no one has ever argued that the IBM PC was some sort of breakthrough in computing, or represented progress in programming techniques (quite the opposite in fact, it was cheap and took many shortcuts, resulting in the horrible situation we have in computing today).

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2523927

At the time, the IBM PC was very impressive compared to the other microcomputers available.

The way I remember it, the main thing it had going for it was that 'IBM' tag.

Its graphics were worse than that of the 4 year old Apple II, its speed was only a little higher (certainly way of from what the 1:4.77 clock speed ratio would make you think; both ran at around 1 MIPS).

Yes, it handled more than 64k RAM and was 16 bit-ish, but very impressive? Not in my memory.

The original 5150 PC had a wonderful keyboard. We'd consider it very heavy and loud today (each key had a spring beneath it, and made a very audible click when pressed), but compared to the other keyboards at the time, it was easily the best.

I wonder if we'll look back at this a few years from now and say, "At the time, the iPad was very impressive compared to the other tablets available."

1. Yes, it is pushing envelopes. 2. Never been done by private industry. 3. Radically lower price.

Arianespace is a private company (admittedly with some government shareholders, but EADs is also a large shareholder) and it has been operating commercially since 1980 having done hundreds of launches:


Usain Bolt isn't pushing any envelopes. He's just doing what has already been done for decades, but at a higher speed.

Entirely true. Not sure of the relevance.

Seriously though, SpaceX isn't Usain Bolt, it's... Fabio Cerruti (of Italy, fifth-place getter in the first heat of the men's 100m at the 2008 Olympics). He ran 100m in 10.49 seconds, which is very impressive, but nothing that hasn't been done before.

OK, enough athletics analogies.

Sorry if it wasn't clear. To my understanding, "pushing the envelope" means just going a little bit further than anyone else has gone before. You obviously have a different definition.

So, if they are doing what has been done before for a lower price, then they are pushing the price/performance envelope?

The second two clauses contradict the first..

It's also a risk-mitigation problem: making sure that nothing goes wrong with the solution to the plumbing problem.

NASA probably isn't optimally cost-effective, but I suspect that eats more money than the plumbing problem itself does.

The difference is that most plumbing problems result in nothing worse than loss of property and even truly egregious disasters might not make even the local news. Plumbing problems with manned rockets can result in deaths which are almost always international news.

Yes, and such failures are interpreted as a direct readout on our national technological capability and international prestige. It's nonsense to read so much into it, but that's how it works.

It's funny, but this is the opposite of what happened during the 1950s space race. Russia, having less cash to spend, contracted work out various bidders, whereas america established the massively centralized NASA.

And Russia killed and maimed hundreds in their pell-mell race to the moon. So it was cost-effective and politically expedient, sure. But there are towns still expunged from Russian maps that were blighted by that irresponsible program.

Though I really don't like the idea of an "Us vs. Them" mentality in global development (it's been commented many times that this is not a zero sum game, there doesn't have to be winners and losers like in football), this article is inspiring. Congrats to Elon and SpaceX on their wonderful innovation.

This is an inspiring mark of American spirit that has seemed to escape our minds amidst international business pressures. I'm grateful that we have hardworking leaders such as Elon who take risks when others won't, and are dedicated to living their dreams.

I didn't see this before, but the SpaceX office tour is pretty awesome: http://spacex.com/multimedia/videos.php?id=26

"Beat" China? Why not work together?

Because as much as we'd like to pretend otherwise, there are significant ideological differences between the US and China. China just enacted a 3 month ban on all spy dramas on TV [1] and I'm about go home and watch Casino Royal with a bottle of scotch [2]. And as JFK says, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation. [3]. This may seem nationalistic to you, but I think JFK is right.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/world/asia/06briefs-China....

[2] Citation not needed.

[3] http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm

Working together on commercial space technology is good. But space technology also has military uses, in which case both China and the US have strategic reasons for being competitive.

Example: a few years ago China decommissioned one of its weather satellites by firing a rocket at it from Earth. Some speculated this new technology could be used to wipe out the USA's anti-nuclear system, leaving it vulnerable to an attack.

Exactly. It's not a zero-sum game. China getting better economically is good for the U.S. and vice versa. Anyone who thinks differently needs to take ECON101.

Fine. This is definitely good news. It proves a company is doing a great job, it gives hope and inspiration to other business try to be innovative and bring back the American spirit. But what will happen to space programs if American economy goes into a harder crisis? People will probably vote not to launch anything, not to look at the sky, but to spend money on land issues instead. My big concern is regarding the end of the dollar as the world's reserve currency. That could bring many succesfull companies down, specially those on American markets only. China can be a big issue to America if it starts no to believe in dollar currency anymore. In this context, beating China on innovation at Space programs might not mean Americans won.

That blog post is written in such an unpretentious way. Space travel with feet firmly planted on the ground

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact