Musk: I can’t tell you much. We have essentially no patents in SpaceX. Our primary long-term competition is in China—if we published patents, it would be farcical, because the Chinese would just use them as a recipe book.
If your process/ideas are sufficiently complex, it reduces competition if you don't file a patent.
But for industries where that's not the case, like rockets (my current) or to pick another example from a previous job, magnetic bearings for sub-sea tubo-machinery installations like natural gas compressors, it makes no sense to file a patent. It's much easier to keep it a secret, because it's not like your competitors are going to scuba-dive down to the compressor control cabinet, whip out a JTAG and see how you've implemented your control loop on an FPGA.
Likewise, if you do patent it, it's very difficult to prove an infringement for the same reasons.
So essentially, in industries where it's not the case that your competitors can see what you've done, secrets over patents is the norm, in my experience, and has been for while.
 Mag bearings use electromagnetic stators and magnetic collars on the shaft to levitate the shaft inside a bit of spinning equipment. This means it's entirely non-contact, dramatically reducing wear, especially useful on difficult-to-service installations like sub-sea.
And in more accessible industries, where knowledge is abundant, costs low and independent reinvention highly probable, patents stall and block and create monopolies and in general cause economic damage in wasted time and money.
Man, we sure got a sweet deal out of this.
But there are a lot of issues with pharma patents, too, like evergreening old drugs by combining two existing about-to-expire into a new drug, or getting approved for a new on-label use, etc. (including really cynical stuff, like initially patenting a drug for use in one patient population (say, white people?) and then doing a new study and re-patenting for another specific population (asians, etc.), where there was never any reason to suspect the drug, disease, method of action, etc. would be different.
And the cost could be shared among the developed countries. And we could direct research towards causes and cures, instead of just treatments.
Drugs get made, researchers paid, companies compete on merit and enjoy a steady income instead on gambling on the next Viagra, we stop killing people in poor countries who can't afford monopolistic prices, and there is one less reason for having patents at all.
Medical device development is so interdisciplinary that I have zero confidence in the government being able to staff/grant/etc. its development. The only people in government likely to create medical devices would be end users who happen to be hackers, or government employees (at places like NIST) who are technical, need the product personally, and end up developing it on their own as a side project.
Government-funded R&D might work for NIH style long term research which is very structured and well understood, but I think it would be horrible for "hacking", which is what medical device creation largely is. What is really needed for devices is a bunch of bootcamp type programs for non-biomedical engineers to learn about the process, and clinicians posting to the Internet with their problems with current systems. I think today one of the main ways developers find out is when they or a family member/friend goes in for a procedure and they see a need.
"china can't compete because all their aerospace students are spies
(joke from my chums in the physics department)"
My feeling is that you should use both. Patent the things you can't hide and keep secret the things you can.
If you think the competition is close to duplicating what you've kept secret, patent it then if possible.
Of course, if they, too, can keep it a secret, there's no point in patenting it. But if you know how to detect it, it might be worth patenting it.
EDIT: removed point about first-to-file as prior art would largely invalidate such attempts beyond a very narrow time frame.
The wiki article expounds a little:
If they went to court in the same country, you mean.
It's frustrating when you're working on a problem you're 90% sure a better funded industry player has already solved. Maybe they solved it through trial and error, without needing or wanting to understand the fundamental science behind it, but you then have to re-discover their results before you can even make progress in the understanding. But it's that understanding that's essential for developing completely new materials for the future. It's not all that bad, but it's certainly sub-optimal.
He's always told me that he'll never try to register its designs to any authority since the company's main competitors are the chinese, and that they do not care for forgein laws and registrations. Well, obviously.
Surely, this is not suitable to every businesses, but I couldn't think at the time that this would apply to the space industry as well.
The really hard part is the supply chain. For example, Apple was hit by the "bad cap" problem when they went with the cheaper caps (stolen formula): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacitor_plague#Industrial_esp...
SpaceX appears to be producing so much of their design in-house that the suppliers don't yet play a major role. I'm going with the assumption SpaceX will be around long term, so that will be a challenge as they try to bring costs down even more. They're not selling to the high end market.
This is why Boeing and Lockheed had to play nice and form United Launch Alliance for the EELV & Space Shuttle Support Contract.
They formed United Space Alliance (USA) for the Space Flight Operations Contract.
Sounds like so many complaints about the enterprise software landscape, and has certainly proved to be true in my own experience. Codified processes usually start with the guise of open communications and education, either because someone wasn't thinking or because of a pressing need to get a few people on the same page. They are soon adopted and enforced as dogma by natural-born bureaucrats who crawl out of the woodwork from seemingly nowhere. It must be an incredible challenge to fight in any large organization, looking at it from the top down.
So far, Musk appears to be doing an admirable job. These things tend to last only as long as a real visionary is at the helm. He is young so hopefully can keep at it for a while longer still, hopefully even long enough to get us to Mars. From this article, he didn't actually say to much about such plans. I wonder if it's just a judicious amount of prudence on his part or if even he fears it may not be feasible in his lifetime.
See this link and the ensuing discussion: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4727045
This view is to cultivate habits and work consistently and methodically every day.
Elon's view is to toss out process and dream big.
What is the best way to reconcile these two opinions? Is it a matter of scale (i.e. personal process but enterprise chutzpah?)
It's a matter of experience. Process is defined by the boundary at which things start to fray. You can only find that boundary by running into it a few times and recognizing where it is. It gets much, much more complex as you grow in size because the fraying can happen as part of how two individuals interact. The more individuals you have, the riskier it is to assume the boundary is farther out, and thus the safer it is to constrict using process; there are interpersonal boundaries on top of your personal comfort zones.
If you don't need the habits and consistency, then you don't need them. Don't do that. Go big until you fail. Figure out why you failed. Account for it next time. That accounting is process. And probe your process occasionally to make sure it's still valid, too.
It would be wrong to compare it with any other traditional big company. The structures built around traditional big business work because of some reasons.
Once they achieve the goals of easier space flight and mission to mars and when it become easier or less motivational, probably they will face similar issues like most companies. But i don't this Musk cares a damn about that ... and he shouldn't
To paraphrase Bezos, the problem is not process, but the mindless application of them (see this interview: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.07/bezos_pr.html).
Also, Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about if there was a space race with China the US would be on Mars in 18 months: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=c...
It would be truly amazing if a private company was the first to set foot on another planet.
Well, we'd have to wait 2 years for a launch window, but I agree that the US will stop dicking around with zero-g studies when we get scared that China might beat us there.
NASA is probably too risk-averse with human life, and China is too risk-accepting. They once wiped out an entire peasant village in a rocket failure (and tried to cover it up).
EDIT: I had to watch that video to the very end to get to the 18 month mark. Geeze.
Wow, I had never heard of anything about this. Wikipedia seems to be very risk averse to stating much more than the official record of 6 deaths and 57 injuries, and I couldn't find a good text source in my quick search. This metafilter discussion is good, though, with many links to videos and other sources.
and that would be absolutely amazing; though in some ways (and not to discount musk’s undertaking at all) i feel it speaks more so to a failure of governments (generally speaking) in investing to drive technological advance.
it should be the public sector that leads in these types of endeavors. one of the most important functions of a state is its ability and willingness to invest in projects that would be otherwise unprofitable or far too long-term for any rational player in the private sector to take-on. these investments, while maybe unprofitable to a single entity, are what lay the foundation for significant productivity and standard of living gains down-the-line (which, in-turn, spur many future profitable companies). it’s how everything from highways spanning a continent and parks in the middle of crowded cities to the internet and atomic energy get developed; and it's so crucial to society..
it’s really quite sad to see this important economic function of government neglected, particularly in the us where its proven so successful in generating wealth and societal good time-and-time again.. i mean would we have microsoft and apple around if it wasn’t for the development of the internet? (and google certainly wouldn’t exist).
it’s also sad that the great focus that the nation apparently (long before i came to be) had in driving technological advance has stalled, and such investments have become issues of budgets and ‘big government’ (which i am not a fan of at all by the way). if governments are going to run ridiculous budget deficits anyways (even in years of economic growth) then there should at least be something to show for it at some point; that doesn’t seem to be the case these days..
fortunately there are irrational players in the private sector, like elon musk, who are able to fill the voids. unfortunately though, if (and most likely when) such endeavors prove unprofitable in the long-run, little may show for it.. you’d think more people would be interested (and economically incentivized) to have a government that covers the expensive research and development costs associated with spearheading technologies which they can one-day build-off of (and in incredibly profitable ways), but i guess economic self-preservation (and therefore political pressure) prevail over advance.
with all that said, i really do hope he succeeds.
(also, off topic, but i really wish i could afford a model s right now!)
For example, the Pyramids are a stunning achievement that couldn't have been completed without using government. However, I don't see them as being particularly helpful today.
Governments don't need to have "economic functions" other than protecting property rights, and maintaining a sound currency.
people generally discount the significant economic advantages (to all in an economy) that government investments provide; in most cases, investments in transformative projects which otherwise would not have occurred were it up to the private-sector alone.
take development of the us interstate system as an example.. the costs involved in building-out the network are estimated to have been in excess of $425 billion  and the original phase took over 35 years to complete as planned; no rational, profit-seeking, company would ever undertake such a project. the economics just don’t make much sense. and even if the private sector was able to come-up with a similarly adequate solution (potentially networks of small/regional players monetizing usage through tolls), the cost to society both in actual usage charges (sufficient to generate profits for the firms) and in lack of a consistent, expandable, and reliable network that so many people and businesses depend on would likely be far in excess of the $425 billion cost.
the fact that the us built-up solid infrastructure (both physical and in terms of networks and connectivity systems) early on (relative to many other nations) provided domestic companies a major competitive advantage over less/later-developed countries; its freed-up physical ($) and intellectual capital towards other endeavors and was a key part of why, collectively, more significant commercialized innovations over the past few decades (by private companies) have come from the us.
and beyond the economic savings from the outcome of the investment itself (i.e. a system facilitating a reliable, consistent, and relatively inexpensive means of transportation), the actual exercise in carrying it through also yields a lot of ancillary economic benefits. new construction methods may be developed, equipment manufacturers may grow in scale or scope, and a lot of people (and companies) are employed (and contracted) in carrying-it through (gaining new skills/experience).
beyond that, there is all the subsequent innovation and opportunity to develop profitable businesses that are created once a major transformational technology is introduced. think of the advantages ups (and later fedex) would have in utilizing the interstate system to grow in scale relative to competitors in countries that lacked similar systems (now lookup who are the leaders in that industry). the benefits are even clearer when you look at all the technology and defense companies that have benefited from foundations laid-out by, or innovations developed during, large government-funded projects such as the internet or during the space race..
And Fedex's success depended far more on aviation advances than on the Interstate Highway System. Aviation that was pushed by private industry (while also enjoying support from the militaries of the world).
In the US, the major "infrastructure" type projects that were government driven are often listed as the Erie Canal, the Hoover Dam, and the IHS. Some will throw in the TVS as well, though I consider that more of a state-cooperative effort. Yet we still seemed to have a great deal of scientific progress that in turn led to economic progress before these huge programs were enacted.
The steam engine, the locomotive, the airplane, wireless radio, etc. etc. Goddard didn't have much government support in his initial efforts yet was a pioneer.
I'm not discounting that governments can have a disproportionate impact on some programs. But do we really want to have a government that picks winners and losers as we currently do with alternative energy? I guess we'll find out on Tuesday.
rather, i'd like to a concerted effort by the government to find a solution itself (i.e. let’s get a man on the moon in ten years ... let’s have all new vehicles running on a clean and sustainable fuel source within the next 20 years). that type of approach is fundamentally different than let’s invest in this particular company’s particular solution or let’s give a loan to these guys.. it’s more analogous to the projects you described in which the government funded research/planning, developed particular approaches, and then contracted-out the development of potential solutions/implementations, and where it all fit together towards achieving a tangible goal. that’s very different than what’s going on today.
and i'd say ‘alternative energy’ is a poster-child for a project in which the cost of development and commercialization is fairly significant, but the economic and societal benefit of an adequate solution being realized far outweighs it; to me, that makes for an ideal case (and one of few) where increased government involvement can play a good role. especially so, given the government has already distorted the market by subsidizing ‘traditional energy’ sources for so long.
as to what happens tomorrow, i doubt we’ll find-out how it impact this issue in any meaningful way. as i see it, it’s a choice between continuing to pick winners and losers or just giving up entirely; neither is ideal as far as i'm concerned..
happy election day good sir.
That is now changing. Space is becoming an endeavor of the private sector and its even on pace of becoming profitable (see Planetary Resources). While NASA has definitely proven humanity can still explore I believe it will be the private sector that will truly set the pace for human break-throughs.
"When deep space exploration ramps up, it'll be the corporations that name everything, the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks."
As for the engines being in a warehouse in Siberia since the 60s - that part is basically true. There was an Equinox (UK) documentary called "the engines that came in from the cold" about it. When the cold war was over the Americans finally found out about these engines that were left over from the space race, 20 years old (at the time) and better than anything they'd developed since. Now they're over 40 years old and still the most efficient!
So credit where it's due eh Elon? The NK-33 was and still is a masterpiece.
Its a bit aggressive to label this engine a masterpiece when it has never actually launched successfully. I don't even think there has been an attempted launch with the NK-33, just ground tests for the N-1F rocket which was cancelled. Interesting note - the second attempted launch of the N-1 rocket, which used the original version of the NK-33 (NK-15) resulted in the largest non-nuclear explosion of all time.
There is more to an engine than power to weight ratio, such as actually successfully putting a rocket in space.
I have a solid background in materials science and metallurgy from a world-class university, and find what Musk is doing very inspirational. After I finish my PhD, I'd love to be a part of it, but I'm British and I know with some companies in the industry there're citizenship requirements for security reasons. As he mentions in the interview, they wouldn't want China stealing their ideas, for example. And I know a lot of the job postings on SpaceX list "US citizen or permanent resident" as a requirement, but I didn't know if this was a hard and fast rule, or whether exceptions are possible.
Yes! Finally someone gets it!
Motherfucking space! Is aspirational!
We go to space not because it is easy, but because it is hard AND AWESOME.
I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise, but it's still hard to avoid naively thinking that surely there had been technical challenges holding up the technological progress in those areas for so long.
Indeed, psychological investigations have found that entrepreneurs aren’t more risk-
tolerant than non-entrepreneurs. They just have an extraordinary ability to believe
in their own visions, so much so that they think what they’re embarking on isn’t
really that risky. They’re wrong, of course...
I think what stops people is aversion to the unfamiliar (whereas some people like it), and the pain of each failure. People like Edison fail a thousand times, and keep going (even if you hate him, you have to admit that takes a certain courage).
After 3 rocket failures, Musk said something similar
http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2008/08/musk_qa (at the end):
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.
I love that this brilliant guy is talking about interplanetary space travel as the obvious future.
I nearly cried. This is my company, and it is so very disappointing.
Specifically, an Antarctic planet covered in chlorinated brominated rusty dust with essentially no air pressure or atmospheric water, a dim sun, rotten weather, two ugly little moons, and 57,600,000 millisecond ping times.
No chance to ever feel fresh air on your face, no chance to go swimming, never meeting a stranger until they're suddenly your neighbors for life, no chance to ever get away and start anew, and no chance to go back to Earth.
In a box, on a dead planet, for life.
Elon Musk has built a fucking space rocket company and is defeating Boeing, Lockheed Martin and MDD in a business they've dominated for the last 40 years. I think this is an incredibly impressive accomplishment, and SpaceX's ambitions to make it possible to do manned missions to Mars is exactly what we need to bring humanity forward. Just from the science side alone, having actual people on Mars would be of tremendous value. If you think of what we know about Mars, think about how much more we would know if we were able to do more complex experiments there. Whether you personally think it's a good idea to settle down on Mars or not isn't very relevant.
You're pointing at some very relevant issues, but why not phrase it in a more constructive tone? I'm sorry for the negativity, but it pisses me off when grand ideas and accomplishments are dismissed so offhandedly. Getting to Mars is not nearly "nothing", even compared to _anything_ that humans have ever done.
Sanely priced two-way trips to Mars will change the course of humanity by enabling us to colonize the solar system and perhaps ensure a longer story for all mankind. This is the most interesting thing I've read all day, and he deserves every bit of attention.
Now back to your regularly scheduled pessimism:
Humanity has a long way to go, and a change of scenery isn't going to do all that much for her. The United States of America with her vast resources and impeccable pedigree in advancing Enlightenment is operating a torture camp for political prisoners in a subtropical shithole.
What exactly happens when we send a thousand of our best and brightest and edgiest and most ambitious to live in what is essentially an submarine entombed underground for a decade? Do they live up to the Star Trek ideal? Or do they do what people in confined spaces tend to do?
Can we provide a reasonable quality of life for colonists? Beyond maintaining air pressure and food, can we provide for them spiritually and emotionally? Can we provide a -life-? Geology only gets you so far. Even on Earth it's kind of an obscure trade, and geology is about all there is to -do- on Mars.
What does a day to day life look like there? Do the children go to school? How is conflict handled? Who participates in what activities? What if there is too much to do? What if there isn't enough to do? How do you settle transplanetary custody battles when it means mommy or daddy taking the kid on a potentially lethal trip to another planet? How do you handle disease when everyone's in a thousand foot wide sphere? How do you bury people on an igneous planet? What does suicide mean for a Martian civilization?
There are a billion things to consider, and Elon has the first five thousand handled. I am delighted that we get to think about the rest now.
> In a box, on a dead planet, for life.
Sign me up, right now!!!
> Can we provide a reasonable quality of life for colonists?
I don't care. I would need a) air+water b) food c) a place to sleep d) tools to colonize the planet - like create more living space. For quality of life, if I can get e) book or movies or even f) internet access, great! If I can't that's not a dealbreaker.
So, sign me up!!
I'm not convinced that our future as flesh and blood humans is in space, or even on any of the other planets in our solar system, but if we're going to try then we cannot focus solely on the hard technical challenges.
But the idea of an enclosed isolated test environment just doesn't raise the same kind of enthusiasm in me.
Unless there are side benefits (like freedom - ie build a new country from scratch in the middle of say Antarctica!!) I don't know why, but I really don't feel like taking part in the experience.
I guess it's all about selfishness - being on Mars matches my selfish motives. Doing a 10 years test somewhere in a controlled bunker on earth, a sacrifice for the next team who might do the same on real Mars??? I'll pass the opportunity.
That makes me wonder if it would be a good thing to run such an experiment, considering the volunteers would certainly be different (in their reason and personalities) from the ones who would volunteer for a real Mars mission.
You certainly don't sound like it.
But the hard part is extremely, extremely, extremely hard. It's not getting there, it's staying there. And scant few people are focusing on what it would actually look like and how it would actually work if we actually sent people offworld, which I very much want to happen. Mars500 needs to be Mars5000000 before this dream is real.
Honestly, if we could airlift people into the Sahel with a real-world replica of what would be going to Mars and they could make it a few years, I could die happy.
Elon Musk has the easy job in all this.
Some people will be happy with the life.
Some people will be unhappy with the life.
Same as it is in every single other living situation.
I picture the confinement problem as the most troublesome, but astronauts spend months in orders of magnitude tighter spaces and surviving in relatively good condition.
There's no reason at all you should send untrained people on those first missions and there's also no reason at all not to schedule yearly trips to bring back the people who couldn't stand the pressure.
Now, of course it will be insanely hard, there will be highly complex issues with no apparent solution that will have to be solved via improvisation without the proper means. But humans seem to have done it again and again.
That's what we're trying to find out.
If you're talking about an eventual permanent colony, it will definitely need some brave souls willing to make a one-way trip -- but so have many colonies in Earth history. And the colonists needn't be as cut off as you say if they could have visitors from Earth coming and going regularly. The round-trip radio delay between Mars and Earth is anywhere from 7 minutes to 45 minutes (I think your "ping time" was off by an order of magnitute or two), which is far shorter than the delay for, say, European colonists in 18th-century America or Africa to write to their friends back home.
By the time we are thinking about raising children on another planet, we might even be able to build them an indoor swimming pool. :)
It might be cheaper and easier to deliver sustainable life support to Mars than the fuel, oxidizer and engines to return (or the machinery needed to harvest it in situ).
More than 5000 applications followed. Not everybody is made for adventure though.
People should do that stuff because they love to do it, not out of a misguided hope of becoming famous for future generations.
DHH put it very eloquently in an essay 4 years ago: http://37signals.com/svn/posts/1437-put-a-dent-in-the-univer... -
"The key is that your efforts would be missed, your customers would have a sense of loss, if you stopped doing what you’re doing."
Imagine if history said this about Apollo: "The technology was there, but in the end, we lacked people brave enough to risk the voyage. So the project stagnated, the rockets languished on the launching pads. And America moved on, a president's promise forgotten."
I'd say the nameless astronaut makes a pretty big dent.
Hopefully our records will be better preserved than those from the Mayflower.
I dunno. They Mayflower records are pretty decent. And online.
Physically getting to Mars and setting up camp is a challenge. Physically getting to another solar system and setting up camp is a challenge to the power of challenge. The numbers and difficulties are profoundly greater between the two.
Self sufficiency is entirely possible given enough energy, material, and care. We've managed to do it for four billion years on this planet. There's no reason it can't be done on another planet, or a ship as you mention.
I maintain that creating a stable-enough social structure that can survive offworld long-term seems to be most difficult part of the quest to leave Earth.
Why is any point of this true:
The fresh air one maybe, but there's no particular reason the chemical and physical make-up of Earth air can't be recreated.
Swimming can happen in a swimming pool and fake/indoor beaches exist.
You can move with people you already know; anyway, isn't "never meeting a stranger until you're living next to them" the standard procedure for moving house on Earth?
There's no reason that one can't move around, even back to Earth. They did get to Mars/other planet in the first place.
 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_to_Stay#cite_ref-krauss_25...
What's so complicated about "a family" ?