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To Elon Musk and the Model S: Congratulations (wsj.com)
538 points by suprgeek on June 30, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments



Footnote, not mentioned in the story: Elon Musk tweets that he'll donate the $1M to Doctors Without Borders in any case, as though he'd lost the bet:

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/218897974242181121

100%. Class. Act.


In addition, Elon said that he had already committed in his will to give away most of his fortune to charity. http://i.imgur.com/Mnk7U.jpg

Elon also experienced near-death back in 2000 during a visit to South Africa. He almost died from cerebral malaria. (According to an interview) He tweeted about it here: https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/152394000857448448


The great thing about Elon becoming part of the giving pledge is that his wealth could spiral into the kind of numbers we are yet to see individuals accumulate. This guy is taking on gigantic problems and is quickly establishing at the forefront of future tech.

I've always been in awe of Elon and quite simply that doesn't seem like changing any day soon.


Elon is awesome, but the founders of NASA contracting companies, intel, car companies, etc didn't reach bill gates levels of wealth.


Gates's fortune is vast, but there where plenty of people that made far more when you adjust for inflation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wealthiest_historical_f...

John D. Rockefeller: US$392 billion to US$663.4 billion in adjusted dollars for the late 2000s, and it is estimated that his personal fortune was equal to 1.53% of the total U.S. annual GDP in his day. PS: He was worth a billion dollars in

Cornelius Vanderbilt: US$178.4 billion adjusted for the late 2000s; Henry Ford: $188.1 billion; Andrew Carnegie US$75 billion to US$297.8 billion; , Astor has a real wealth estimated at some US$116 billion when adjusted for the late 2000s; John D. Rockefeller


>Elon is awesome, but the founders of NASA contracting companies, intel, car companies, etc didn't reach bill gates levels of wealth

This might be true. But Elon stands to be the first private citizen with a chance to reach the moon or Mars. The chance is (admittedly) slim, but the expected value of being commercially successful at reaching the moon or Mars is exponentially greater than Microsoft.


I don't think the change is that slim. Elon is the type of person who knows his limits and pushes them. His goals tend to be grand, but, with effort, achievable.

I'd be more surprised if he didn't reach the moon or Mars


What is the expected value of a private party reaching Mars? What are they going to get from it?


The first individuals to reach North America didn't become ultra-rich. But North America did eventually produce unprecedented new wealth.

Zubrin has argued that the colonization of Mars is analogous to North America, and will produce unprecendented wealth.

http://www.nss.org/settlement/mars/zubrin-promise.html


Hate to be a pedant, but the first people who reached North America were massacred by the ones who followed.


> Hate to be a pedant, but the first people who reached North America were massacred by the ones who followed.

No, good point. That one doesn't count as pedantry on your part, but as a d'oh on my part!


Hard to say. I'm completely speculating but I'm imagining that between the natural resources present there and the possibility of colonizing the planet, there's economic potential. That being said, very difficult to calculate.


Depends on whose logos are on the rocket.


In addition, Elon said that he had already committed in his will to give away most of his fortune to charity.

Is donating your fortune to charity in your will really altruistic? You're just giving away something you would no longer need, something which you wouldn't be able to use in any way after you're dead.

On the other hand, by writing that will now, you get to feel damn good about yourself and also have a lot of people praise you.

I think the people volunteering their life and their youth for an NGO and going to work with people in need NOW are the ones who deserve praise, not billionaires who are pledging to helping the poor without risking anything. I wish I could be one of the former, yet our society always encourages and rewards the latter.

NB. I'm not arguing against Ellon Musk, I'm arguing against the way you phrased that sentence, and what people are sometimes mislead into viewing as a great deeds. See also Orwell's Burmese days.


First off, I agree with you that the volunteers deserve credit. But this is not a contest of who can get the most praise. Volunteers and researchers need funding in order to operate effectively, and Elon's billions could be extremely helpful if he really does donate most of his fortune to charity upon his death.

That sentence was from Elon Musk himself, not mine. So really, you're arguing against Elon Musk. Did you even read the picture I posted? http://i.imgur.com/Mnk7U.jpg

He goes further on twitter to set the basic premise that it's better to try to address some of the world's problems than to create an aristocracy of wealth.

He has donated to charitable organizations like MSF, UNICEF, Peace & Justice, Doctors without Borders, and personally bought presents for kids at the orphanage on Xmas. His established Musk Foundation helps to promote science education, pediatric health and clean energy.

All of his companies has the ultimate goal of having a positive effect on the world, whether it's space exploration, solar energy generation, or electric cars. Elon personally said that he worked 80-100 hours a week for 15 years, and at one point invested nearly all of his assets in order to keep Tesla & SpaceX alive back in 2008. Source: http://archive.mensjournal.com/elon-musk%E2%80%99s-risky-bus...

Your claim of Elon being one of those billionaires pledging to help the poor without risking anything is flat out wrong. He risked everything and gave it his all, to the point of waking up in tears during the 2008 economic crash, when he thought all 3 companies would die and his marriage was ruined. He almost had a nervous breakdown. Source: 34:42 mark http://www.bloomberg.com/video/73460184-elon-musk-profiled-b...


Given that people feel oneness with their offspring and relatives, yes it is altruistic.


I don't think it's as clear cut as you suggest. For example, Warren Buffett has earned a return on capital averaging around 20% over his life. This means he had the choice of giving away, say, $1 million in 1970 or $1.5 billion in 2010. I think the second option is the better choice, even if it is technically not as 'altruistic'.


Relatively speaking, it is. He could instead use it to have lots of progeny and make sure they'll be in a great financial position to pass on his genes.


I think hes still doing pretty well on both counts.


There are really three options:

1. Give away your money after you make it.

2. Give away your money as you make it.

3. Stop making money once you've earned enough of it.

Elon has chosen #1, and that is a viable option. It's viable because fortune begets fortune, and if he'd chosen #2 (or certainly #3) he might not have been able to create as much wealth.

That fact that he's not choosing to set his children up for life (apart from, I'd imagine, enough to get them through grad school comfortably) is to his credit and to their ultimate benefit.


Another option for wealthy individuals is to continue investing their wealth into their companies, with the expectation that the indirect economic effect of doing business as usual will have a greater positive effect on the poor and needy than an equivalent direct cash gift would.


Altruism is definite, absolute. There are degrees of selfishness though. I think donating your fortune upon death is less selfish (or more selfless) than not.


Agreed. I may not be the biggest "PayPal" fan but I'm certainly a "Musk" fan. To Mars!


helped restore my belief in humanity


Dude, humanity is awesome! Look at us :)


Ah, I was just going to say, "the only downside to this story is that the charity now gets $1K instead of $1M" :-) But not even that is the case.

Indeed 100% class.


Now if Top Gear just gives it an honest review and doesn't go for the entertainment cheap shot of pretending it runs out of power and pushing it down the road.

I look forward to buying my first used electric car in five to eight years. Probably a Leaf. Should be lots of hobbyists at that point rebuilding their own battery packs by hand.


The Top Gear review was somewhat staged for effect, but did point out a real shortcoming with the vehicle.

Top Gear reviews hardly make a difference anyway, I think anyone who has watched even a few episodes knows they exaggerate negatives for entertainment value almost constantly; the Tesla was hardly their only "victim" in this regard.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Gear_controversies#Tesla_Ro...

Basically, they imagined the worst that could possibly happen, but when it didn't happen, they pretended that it did anyway.

This is kind of like saying "we reviewed your iPhone app. Because apps can crash, we wrote a review describing all the way your app crashing ruined various real-life activities we had, even though your app never actually crashed."


Top Gear is highly influential both in terms of viewing figures and general perception. Of all the people I know who saw the episode, they all had genuine reservations and believed it to be about accurate journalism, not comedy.

Second, as another reply points out, they did not really point out genuine shortcomings but rather fabricated events and used strawmen. If you analyse existing usage of sports cars, you will probably find the vast majority are used for short and medium distance driving on the road, not cross-continent or highly intensive race track driving. Hence the design and marketing of the Tesla.


If they take Top Gear seriously, the people you know surely are not intelligent enough to amass the resources to by a Tesla roadster.


It's not a matter of intelligence. It may be a comedy, but most of their reviews are grounded in some level of truth, and for many people the segment will have been their only exposure to electric vehicles.


Not to mention they pulled the same "joke" when reviewing the Nissan Leaf.


They convinced my wife she didn't want a Prius. I bought her one anyway, and she loves it.

As far as I'm concerned, the Top Gear guys are hucksters.


The Prius hate is amazing. They drive it on a race track and conclude that it's a crappy car. Because, apparently, that's what that car was built for...


I don't get what is so amazing by it. I would be surprised if they came to any other conclusion... it's Top Gear for crying out loud.


Then why review it? Why don't they review bicycles and race them against Corvettes?


Because it was funny and because their audience probably doesn't want to watch bicycle/corvette races?


ref. the poor Morris Marina


I'd also bet that Ariel did pretty well after the top gear review of the Atom.


Do you even watch top gear? Or did any of the people complaining about that actually watch top gear?

This is a show that will [jokingly] talk about how much they don't like a new $250,000+ hyper car.


Wait. So you mean the guy started PayPal, SpaceX AND Tesla.

Mother of god.

What have I been doing with my life.


Could he be a chance at Person of the Year?


Century more like!


Solar City as well!


Is anybody in LA test driving the Model S this weekend? How did it go?


Has Elon ever talked about space in the mid-range future? Ten, twenty, thirty years from now? It's easy to talk about plans they already have for next year, or hopes we all have for a thousand years for now, but I'd like to hear someone knowledgeable about the time between point A and B.

I don't need nuanced predictions, just reasonable conjecture.


His 10-20 year timeline is a man on Mars.

I haven't seen the actual roadmap for that anywhere, but I wouldn't be shocked to learn he has one.

http://news.discovery.com/space/spacex-elon-musk-mars-astron...


Here is a compilation of "first drive" videos of the Model S, as well as a list of initial review articles:

http://www.treehugger.com/cars/jurys-tesla-model-s-rocks.htm...


Can't wait to do a test drive of the car.


I got a chance to chat with one of the test drivers who've been flogging a model S around the Bay Area. He indicated that it was pretty zippy with some mild hooliganry possible. I don't think you'll be dissapointed.


I don't really even feel a need to test drive it first. I'm just waiting until I have a place to charge it and my current car dies.


I wonder, what fraction of households in the US has the electric power necessary to charge an electric car?


240 volt at 40 amps is the same as an electric oven, so I'd say almost all of them.


The bigger barrier is people living in apartments.


The kind of apartments where Tesla owners live (or the Google offices where they work) can easily install power outlets in the garage.


I am currently stuck in my girlfriend's condo building in Oakland (moving to my own place would be politically unpopular, and she can't move until she finishes her current contract. It is underwater, and worth about 110k per unit now.). This is not the kind of building likely to have ev charging -- a Tesla costs more than the condos or net worth of most residents..

Shared office in a big building. Neither is really a viable option to get a charging station added.


Hardly a problem. As soon as there is demand, apartment buildings will start offering power outlets along with parking spaces.

Don't live in a building with onsite parking? Parking lots offering charging spaces will begin to spring up. That's the nice thing about capitalism: if there's an opportunity to make a buck, someone will jump on it.


They expect to sell 20,000 cars (Model S) in 2013: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120509/AUTO0104/2050904...

It could take quite some time until market demand for power outlets will become significant.


It isn't a showstopper, but it will certainly prevent many apartment dwellers from being early adopters.


Indeed, though the transition to electric vehicles will happen gradually in any scenario, so that's not a huge problem.

Over time I expect that many street parkings will have power outlets kind of like park-meters.


"It’s better for journalists to write about the story than to somehow become part of the story."

And yet, this is at the top of Hacker News.


Everything I've read about Elon Musk recently has really made me root for the guy. He is disrupting two very difficult industries.

This was posted on HN a few months ago, but I really thought this interview with him was exceptional: http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2008/08/musk_qa

What's most impressive to me is that this interview was almost 4 years ago, and he's done exactly as he said. He's focused on results and he's spending his considerable capital on things likely to make an impact on the world, not on frivolous applications like social networks.


I'd really like to know how he's doing it. Is it because he's personally a brilliant engineer, micromanaging the projects to success? Or does he have an eye for great talent, able to rapidly put together highly productive teams? Or is he so motivational that he can take ordinary engineers and inspire them to do extraordinary things? The stuff they're doing is hard. A lot of very talented people have failed in the space and automotive businesses. To succeed in both to the degree he has is mind-boggling. Tesla and SpaceX still have a long way to go, but where they've been in a few short years is remarkable.


He's extremely smart and extremely hard-working; he has personally, aggressively recruited others whom he's identified as the key people he wants working for him, and by all accounts he inspires them to work as hard as him; he's trained himself into deep domain expertise in both rockets and electric cars and serves as the chief designing engineer of his companies' products; but maybe most important, he has really extreme determination. Consider this exchange after SpaceX had lost its first three launches in a row:

Wired.com: At the end of the day you're still zero for three; you have so far failed to put a rocket into orbit.

Musk: We haven't gotten into orbit, true, but we've made considerable progress. If it's an all-or-nothing proposition then we've failed. But it's not all or nothing. We must get to orbit eventually, and we will. It might take us one, two or three more tries, but we will. We will make it work.

Wired.com: How do you maintain your optimism?

Musk: Do I sound optimistic?

Wired.com: Yeah, you always do.

Musk: Optimism, pessimism, fuck that; we're going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I'm hell-bent on making it work.

http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2008/08/musk_qa

Compare Paul Graham:

"I now have enough experience with startups to be able to say what the most important quality is in a startup founder, and it's not what you might think. The most important quality in a startup founder is determination. Not intelligence-- determination."

http://paulgraham.com/startuplessons.html


There's another key here: both those industries were calcified with few innovators, so they had large latent pools of super-talented people that had been previously under-utilized.

By offering a compelling vision, Elon has sucked up much of the top talent in the space industry who had just been waiting for someone to come along with an uber-cool program for them to work on. His vision is so cool, in fact, that they are willing to work for much lower wages than they would make at a big defense contractor.

Similarly with Tesla, there was a large pool of talented engineers who are passionate about electric cars, who had just been waiting for the right company to come along and rescue them from dead-end projects at the big car companies.


This is very true - for example, his VP Propulsion Development, Tom Mueller, spent 14 years as a rocket product manager at TRW, and spent 6 years leading a team of 80 engineers developing a candidate engine for the Delta IV, and winning plaudits like a chairman's award for technical excellence but without anything he worked on actually getting launched. I can't imagine how gratifying it must feel for him now to watch things he made flying into orbit and opening access to space. It's hard to beat that kind of real accomplishment as a job perk.


Honestly, this is by far the best explanation of Musk's success I've seen. Target calcified industries where great talent is under utilized.


Could he target healthcare next? :-\

Seriously -- it's not glamorous but it could really use an innovator.

(Then again, who would have said an electric car could be glamorous?)


Very unlikely according to what Elon said in an interview: Source: http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/200901/elon-musk-...

----------------------------------------------------

Elon: "It's important enough to be on the scale of life itself, and therefore goes beyond the parochial concerns of humanity," Musk says of our interplanetary destiny. "We're all focused on our little things that are of concern to humanity itself. People think of curing AIDS or cancer as being very important, and they are—within the context of humanity. But curing all forms of cancer would improve the average life span by only two to three years. That's it."

"In other words, while eradicating disease is a worthy pursuit, and would extend the lives of individual human beings, my life's work is extending the life span of life itself."

----------------------------------------------------

Elon did talk about some projects he would like to do if he had the time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FESP1h7IZM

1. VTOL supersonic electric jet: fast, quiet, low-cost to operate (what he jokingly referred to in Iron Man 2, IIRC)

2. Prefabricated metal sections for creating a double-decker/box highway, that could be dropped in place like a lego system with minimal disruption to traffic.

3. Fusion problem, magnetically-confined fusion, gets easier as you scale it up.


People of all ages get cancer, including children.


Yes.. it was interesting to hear that coming from someone who has 5 kids: http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mkm45fjlie/elon-musk-10/#gall...


Great points. Elon himself did mention about the importance of determination in order to get things done: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOPgM7Sc2VQ

He also talked about the greatest factor of his success: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hedxehSr-I A really high intrinsic drive.

You can really see the determination in his eyes. Just 3 months ago, Elon was visibly quite disappointed in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJnW7vtqaf4&feature=relat...

2 months later, the Dragon successfully docked with the space station. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjuvIlskUf4#t=7m20s Just look at Elon's excitement at the 9:36 mark of this video as well as all of SpaceX employee's enthusiasm. Amazing. :)


I just wanted to include the last line of the interview that you left off, as I think it's actually pretty important:

Wired.com: So what have you learned so far? Musk: Patience is a virtue, and I'm learning patience. It's a tough lesson.


Aside: "all-or-nothing" thinking has been described as a cognitive distortion, which can lead to depression and other problems. In the interview, he frames the failure as an test flight, from which they are learning - so it is not "nothing" (despite the loss of satellites and people's ashes). Choosing this frame has worked well for him, just as it has in treating depression.


Thanks for that, it's an excellent survey -- a stunning combination of factors that he worked like hell to align (that the universe didn't simply take care of....).

He's also comfortable being honest, as in that bit about optimism, and other comments in other interviews.


Also, here's Max Levchin's explanation: "One of Elon's greatest skills is the ability to pass off his vision as a mandate from heaven... He is very much the person who, when someone says it's impossible, shrugs and says, 'I think I can do it."

http://www.inc.com/magazine/20071201/entrepreneur-of-the-yea...


> based on small, executable ideas over grand strategies like Martian colonization

I think many startups actually do have a grand vision - it's just that their initial money-making product is a small executable idea. e.g. the article dismisses google as just a "better way to search the web", but they had a vision of accessing the world's information (all human knowledge). It's also long seemed to me they are really about strong AI, but they don't talk about that...

Elon Musk does the same thing. He has a vision, but pays the bills with satellite launches. He's not going direct to a Mars colony. Similarly for Tesla, the first model was very niche. Even with the sedan, it's still a tiny tiny fraction of Toyota's output.

This is the way you accomplish great things: one step at a time.


Probably his companies have less than your average share of bickering VP's and MBA class business types waging corporate warfare with his resources.


I think one major reason is that his companies have a 'strict no-assholes policy.' [Clip http://www.oninnovation.com/videos/detail.aspx?video=1256...]

I have seen a few of his talks and he makes it look really easy.

It's probably well known already, but in case you missed it, Iron Man's character in the movies is based off of him to some degree.


The Tony Stark character, billionaire-industrialist-brilliant-engineer superhero, has existed in the comics since 1963, 8 years before Musk was born. So, the claims of Musk as a model for Stark are best taken with a grain of salt.

Most likely, the Iron Man movie team -- including Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. -- just finds it helpful to reference Musk as a modern Stark-archetype. (Starketype?) The original Stark drew from Howard Hughes, but Hughes isn't as familiar to the movie's modern audience. And, our other modern billionaires, like Gates and Jobs, don't quite have the same rockets-and-motion pedigree as did Hughes and now Musk.


Howard Hughes is very much the same type of man as Musk. He was at the forefront of both movies and aviation, both of which were young industries at the time.

A lot of attention is focussed on Hughes' later years when he turned basically insane, but in his productive years he pushed forwards the design of the airplane and motion pictures.

If anyone is unfamiliar with his work, I'd recommend picking up a biography and giving it a read.


I keep hearing the Iron Man thing, but honestly I'm not sure I see it. I've seen interviews with Musk and he's way less cocky and more down-to-earth than you'd expect with that basis of reference.


I think they were basing it more on the whole "Renaissance man + entrepreneur" thing rather than personality.


Iron Man is decades old. If anything, the reverse is true: The popular perception of Musk is based off the Iron Man archetype.


Allegedly the character, as portrayed in the recent movies, took inspiration from him.


Second this. He's also seems just an exceptionally sweet and lucid man. If anyone has actual knowledge about this question, I would love to hear about it. Worth a blog post, or a book contract, even.


He is one of the most strikingly rational and sincere people I have ever met.


Starting without the 80 years of inertia that all the established auto makers have accumulated certainly helps too.


> He is disrupting two very difficult industries.

If you don't count his earlier internet work, he's still active in 3 difficult industries. He's also chairman of SolarCity, a solar panel installer with some innovative financing options. I think he had the idea for the company and provided funding, and his cousins (?) are running it.


You're correct, Lyndon and Pete Rive are Musk's cousins.

He has invested a considerable amount of money in SolarCity and oversees the board; both are indispensable as the former allowed SolarCity to scale (which was the main problem with lowering installation costs outside of material procurement) and the latter has provided the Rives guidance when they needed it.

But as Musk has said, his main role at SolarCity is showing up to the board meeting and hearing the great results.


> he's spending his considerable capital on things likely to make an impact on the world, not on frivolous applications like social networks.

While I agree that the guy is awesome, his projects are inspiring and I dislike this social everything wave as much as you probably do, social networks do make an impact on the world, probably even faster and more direct than space ships.


Yes, they do, but we should rename them to social ad networks.


Do you call it Google Ad Search?


Do I think of it that way? Yeah, sometimes I do.


Good point - I guess my biggest complaint is that companies like Facebook and Twitter pull some of the most brilliant minds. These minds, in my opinion, could be better spent finding solutions to big problems like cancer, space exploration, green energy, clean water etc. I guess it's not so much that I dislike social networks, more that I dislike the opportunity cost of having smart people go work for them.


You reminded me of this quote:

"It has always appalled me that really bright scientists almost all work in the most competitive fields, the ones in which they are making the least difference. In other words, if they were hit by a truck, the same discovery would be made by somebody else about 10 minutes later." -Aubrey de Grey


If only there were a way to get the truth of that statement across to patent advocates.


Space exploration has little benefit to the average person, esp. for the environmental damage it does. For most people it's just interesting news. I'd like to see more of that innovative talent and gov't money applied to environmental concerns. (That said, I'm still looking forward to tuning into Mars via a microphone/video placed there. Just no ultra-expensive humans, please.)


While space travel may be irrelevant to most today, thanks to those like Musk, it may be very relevant in tomorrow's society.


Why? I see no net benefit to the general public.


Not even the offshoot technologies that have been (and will be) invented and improved as part of space exploration?


Doubtful a net benefit. Those come at tremendous cost to the public, like years of extra work per person. We haven't even paid for the Vietnam War yet, and the interest is compounding on that. We're quickly approaching half of every tax dollar spent on interest. Add space exploration, it could reach 90%.


Extra work compared to what? Is there any other reasonable way that space-derived technologies (e.g. those on this list[0]) could have been invented?

If the US wants to pay off it debts, maybe the first thing to do is reduce the amount spend on, for example, the military. The US spends $700+ billion dollars (or 4% of GDP) on its military[1], on something that is even less of a net benefit to humanity: killing people.

Surely the $20 billion[2] currently spent on NASA pales in comparison to that, and the benefit to humanity of non-military technological improvement is far larger. (Clearly, DARPA et al. fund technological improvement too, but the purpose, and first use, of these technologies is normally quite saddening.)

[0]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spin-off_technologies [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_e... [2]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA


One net benefit created by 'space' travel are satellite systems. GPS, and more used by billions every day to make them work better.


Well, that's not space exploration. For example we knew about the benefit of satellites before we spent a dime to achieve orbit; there was no exploration required.


Then go do something else.


Why? I'm not doing space exploration as it is.


You wouldn't rather we, for instance, mined lifeless asteroids instead of mountains here on Earth?


So much cheaper and environmentally better to tax people for having 3 or more kids instead. Get the population down and we don't need to mine so much. Rockets pollute our atmosphere.


This is an incredibly very simplistic view. Consider the following: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition

P.S. It looks like a Falcon 9 uses about 25000 gallons of kerosene. Assume everyone drives Priuses and gets 50 mpg while driving a reasonable 18000 miles per year. A Falcon 9 launch burns less fuel than less than 100 people do in a year of just living their boring old lives.

Rocket launch pollution is pissing in a metaphorical ocean.

(And of course LOX/LH2 burns to produce water...)


I'd say there should be no harm done to the environment that isn't a net benefit to the public to compensate. If private companies want to recompense the public in full for each 25000 gallons of kerosene burned in the atmosphere (perhaps times thousands of rockets), I'm fine with that. But that's unlikely to happen. It'll just become another public cost instead, to make rich people richer, so I'm against it.


25k Gallons of Kerosene is roughly half the fuel capacity of a 747. (48-65k gallons, depending on which 747). So, that's equivalent to one plane flight from the US to Europe/Asia.


That may be what you wish the world was like, but you must realise that expecting that to actually happen is absurdly unrealistic. Don't expect anyone to take you seriously.


I do realise that expecting the world to be improved for the general public is unrealistic, and the vast majority effectively don't support it. Should I just shut up then?


It doesn't really matter what you do. If you are concerned about looking foolish, then probably yes. Otherwise, have at it.


Cheap Space Exploration is like planes or ships were for various generations in the past. It is hard for a man in the old stone age to think of the value of the ships or planes. They look like pointless "advanced technology" to go to places that do not matter. But then time passes and we figure out things like carts,trains,ships,planes and space elevators or solar sails or ion engines are just an obvious part of our economies.


I get your point, and it's a good one. I just don't think it'll work that way with space exploration. I don't believe that spending $trillions we don't have (we'd have to borrow it) will pay off enough to make that money, and the ten times more in interest we'd have to pay, worth it to the general public. As it is my kid will likely have to work until he drops dead at work (no retirement for future average Americans). We've been off course for a long time, and space exploration is part of that veering.


Space flight is an absolutely infinitesimaly small portion of the national budget. You are wasting your brain-cycles worrying about it.


It's 1.4% of discretionary spending today. That's only the principal; another 10X+ is interest payments. Exploring beyond what we have explored so far (e.g. humans on Mars) would take it far higher.


Exactly, it is piss in an ocean.

Regardless, people like you are actually the reason I am thankful that SpaceX exists. It really doesn't matter to them what people like you think, thank FSM...


I support private space exploration, if they recompense the public for any damage they do (unlike, say, mining companies).


Do you really believe that spending trillions fighting for oil is somehow money better spent?? Do you have any clue how much the US blows away on airconditioning in Afghanistan?

Study: Patent Trolls Cost Companies $29 Billion Last Year

It sad that people still believe Space Colonization is so pointless.


> Do you really believe that spending trillions fighting for oil is somehow money better spent??

No, and I didn't imply that either.


How about a sense of proportion?

With due respect for electric cars and their great possible environmental impact, SpaceX is what is important of Musk's projects. It is what might make his name remembered in a few hundred years.


The use of the word "projects" in this sub-thread made me smile.

Elon's "projects" are all changing the world, while my "projects" have me standing in the middle of Home Depot staring at concrete sealant, dumbfounded as to why one costs 2x the other.

What a depressing dichotomy.


Creating something beautiful, fixing something broken, these are improving the world.


I think both projects are equally important. Arguably, Tesla might be even more important considering it will affect far more people much sooner.


The Tesla is still an impractical car for 90% or more of average consumers. It's still mostly a rich person's toy/fashion statement. That's OK though, if it eventually leads to something that is practical and affordable.


The original Tesla was only practical for 1% of consumers. If the Model S is practical for 10%, that's real progress.

Low cost and high reliability come from volume production, which creates a chicken and egg problem. Elon started with the very high end, and is working his way down as a method to gradually build volumes and develop experience and technology to eventually build high volume low cost cars for everyone.

Contrast that to the "expensive fat econobox" approaches the other carmakers tried and abandoned.


At $50,000 base price, we're not at 10% yet. But yes, progress.


From one of his talks, they have planned their roadmap in three phases:

- Very high cost, very low volume car to start off with.

- Moderate cost, moderate volume car (Tesla S).

- Low cost, high volume.

As we can see, they have achieved the first two targets (with surprising success).

If you consider the 'rich people' argument, SpaceX customers are still going to be fewer than Tesla's for the near future at least. (Although, that is not to say the businesses borne from using SpaceX like bringing better satellite based services etc won't affect a LOT of people.)


I'm getting an impression that Tesla's low cost high volume car will basically be a nissan leaf, which nissan has on the market already.


Tesla's also doing drive trains for Toyota, for the electric RAV4. Which isn't exactly cheap (about $50k), but clearly not aimed at the status-symbol market.

(Tesla itself is probably headed downmarket as well; the announced strategy has always been to do prestige models first and then ramp up the volume.)


Why do you say 90%?

Also, do you mean worldwide or U.S. consumers in particular?


I think it's stupid to compare the importance of such projects, that can and will be done only by the people in the future, when they will see the effects of what we are doing now.


I think spearheading the move to all-electric cars and ending our reliance on oil and the need to start wars over that oil, is a pretty big one, too.


There's no need to fight wars of oil. If the supply of oil is unstable, its price will fluctuate a lot and using oil will be less attractive and alternatives more attractive by comparison.

Of course, its also likely that starting fewer wars would lead to a more stable world and fewer problems with the oil supply. But that would not allow conquest and ego and the sale of hundreds of billions of dollars of armaments.


Yeah, get all our energy from the power grid and then we'll get to start wars over coal, or natural gas, or thorium, or even sunshine.


It's true, we still need energy to power them- but the greatest advantage of an electric car, in my mind, is fuel independence. You can power an electric car with a nuclear reactor, or a hydroelectric dam, or a wind farm. All the same to the car.

Hopefully, this will lead to a bit less violence over fuels.


That doesn't make it less likely for violence to break out; it makes it more likely. If Libya built tons of photovoltaic arrays and started selling power to the EU power grid, now any political instability in Libya will affect prices for coal, natural gas, petroleum, uranium, thorium, hydroelectric, and wind energy as well--since a boycott or sabotage in Libya would spike demand in every other fuel.


But perhaps more violence over resources like Lithium.


The power grid has coped with much bigger changes than the gradual switch to electric car will do. Just the advent of computers, big screen TVs, air conditioners, etc.. Had put a lot more load on the grid than EVs, especially since most will charge at night, off peak.

In other words: No, the scenario you describe won't happen.


I'm not sure the EV charging at night thing will continue forever; Germany has already had a Saturday where their solar panels covered 50% of their electricity needs for a few hours, so if they double or triple or quadruple their solar capacity, they may start finding they need EVs to soak up all the excess solar energy in the middle of bright days.

Solar panels seem to keep getting cheaper; distribution via the power grid does not. This may lead to property owners with enough land eventually finding an economic incentive to get most of their power from solar panels on their land instead of using the grid.


My point isn't that electric cars would shift a lot of energy consumption onto the grid. They will, but that isn't the problem. The problem is that there's nothing special about petroleum that leads us to start wars over it. The wars are over energy, and whatever energy source you use, politics and warfare will follow close behind.


I believe that is incorrect. There is something special about oil, and it is that you can't find it everywhere (at least not as cheaply as you can in Saudi Arabia and Iraq) and it is pretty much the only thing that we run our transportation sector on right now, so it is needed everywhere.

With electricity, it doesn't matter what the source is. If your electricity comes from wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, whatever.. You can generate it where you are. Or you can use local coal/gas/biomass/biogas resources. But electric cars can be run on whatever, while gasoline cars can only run on oil (first generation biofuels used now are now very energy positive, if at all, so they don't count).


Petroleum is only difficult to come by at scale. Coal is perhaps more politically convenient since it seems to be physically present inside friendly first-world countries, but if you wanted to, for instance, move continental Europe to renewable energy, the best source, at scale, would be the Sahara Desert (lots of sunshine, virtually no usable or habitable land area), which happens to fall inside several less than stable countries, many of whom are culturally and geopolitically linked to the same old oil cartel.


Tapping into North-Africa's solar power would be a great way to do things, but if it's not possible, there are many other alternatives. Oil is not as easily replaceable.


Neither is power infrastructure, really. Even oil is fungible with alternatives, just not at scale. At scale, if a significant percentage of the world's energy supply comes out of North Africa and there are political difficulties there, then there's a large cost of switching to an alternative power source, large enough to lead to severe diplomatic or military action. And it would affect the whole world, since losing North Africa, or even a huge chunk of it, would spike demand for, say, thorium in continental Europe, which would raise energy costs worldwide.


That's true. I'm not saying there won't ever be any geopolitical problems wrt energy. Just that these tend to be easier to solve since with electricity you tend to get your power from a large portfolio of decentralized sources, including many that can be exploited locally pretty much anywhere in the world, while with oil, there are fewer sources and you can't really substitute as easily (right now transportation needs liquid fuels, so you could have all the wind power in the world and it won't help you).

I guess a good real-world example of what I'm saying is: Right now, we're not really seeing big crises and wars about electricity, and I expect that it will continue in a similar fashion in the future, with or without EVs on the grid.


More people remember Ford, than remember Goddard.


Electric cars have been done before, for over a century, and would be done without Musk.

To drastically lower the costs of space launch so that Mars(!) expeditions can be done by "just" billionaires is new. Just add what is happening in drones and the solar system will finally be ours.

[Edit: If it isn't clear:

Electric cars seems to obviously be arriving, if two conditions are fulfilled: (a) better batteries (metal-air, etc) and (b) that solar cell costs continue go down and/or more nuclear power. The time has come, it is so simple...

People have been talking for at least four decades about lowering launch costs, but it has gotten nowhere. Maybe that time has come now, when NASA doesn't have a shuttle to protect and hence no motivation to knife all competition in the cradle by their political clout? Maybe, I just note that this dream finally is successful.]


And Ford didn’t invent the car. Industrial car production would most certainly have been done by someone else if he hadn’t done it. It’s not like industrialization was something new during Ford’s time, it had been done for a century before him, just not with cars. (This is not to diminish Ford’s accomplishments. I just want to demonstrate that you can talk any achievement small if only you want to.)

Spaceflight is immensely cool. Much cooler than cars. But cars had a much bigger impact on humanity than spaceflight. I would predict that trend will continue for quite a few decades.


And toilet paper have a bigger impact than cars.

I did not mention "cool", I mentioned lower launch prices. That is more important.

The usual argument, since decades, is that with low launch costs, there will be new use cases and new markets -- the first private projects has been announced for mining and detecting "dinosaur killers", etc.

(I am not certain if I'm trolled here. Or if I was unclear in the GP?)


And? What’s the use case? Cars have certainly done more to lift humanity up than spaceflight has (unlike toilet paper, which is neither cool nor has it done much to lift humanity up). I don’t see how that can change within the next few decades, even if everything Musk plans works out.

If everything he plans works out (and I hope it does) it will be very important and very cool – but cars are the much more pressing issue. Put another way: there is much more potential for doing good there.


I argued (a) electric cars would get popular without Musk anyway, like over a century ago (everyone and their dog in transportation is working on that) -- and (b) cheap launch costs is new and will change the world.

If you wanted to do a serious counter arguments, you'd have asked for sources, or something. You're a troll using a new account. Good bye.


I’m really saddened that you think I’m a troll. I’m honestly not. I’m trying to understand you. I just cannot see how spaceflight could be more important for humanity in the next, say, half-century than transportation. Cool, sure. (Maybe also scientifically valuable if the cost of payloads decreases – but those payloads are actually already most of the cost, so I don’t foresee much change there.) Important? Don’t think so.

I’m also not sure why making electric cars work in the market is any more obvious than slightly cheaper space launch vehicles.

For decades people said they can make electric cars work in the market. They couldn’t. Maybe Musk will.

For decades people said that space launch costs will decrease. They didn’t. Maybe Musk will.

The difference between those two isn’t so big and transportation has the bigger immediate impact on humanity. I mean, both SpaceX and Tesla have many competitors.

(I’m also not sure what sources can tell you here. Comparing two so completely different things is a bit of a fool’s errand, a single source will hardly be valuable. You would have to cleverly combine date to make this somehow work – and much of this is open to interpretation.)


"I just cannot see how spaceflight could be more important for humanity in the next, say, half-century than transportation."... 50 to 60 years is the difference between 1904 and 1956. Do you really think your models of what space "exploration is" in 2012 will be the same in 2062?? In 2062 probably no one will commute to work. All transportation may be purely for socializing personally and travel or adventure. 2062 is so far away that even futurists consider it beyond their comfort zone of dreaming up stuff. How are you so sure of Mankind's priorities in another 50 years?


Exactly. You can't predict it. I can't predict it. All we can do is speculate — which we do.


Musk seems like a great guy, but a comparable bet for the journalist would have been closer to $50. $1 million is just not that much to a man worth $20 billion.


Where'd you get $20 Billion?


Whoops, should be $2 billion. Too many zeroes, misread.




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