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Good God. The man actually said this

Elon Musk, redefined success yesterday. His SpaceX rocket crashed to earth within two minutes of launch. He congratulated his team, saying that many lessons have been learned for the next attempt.

I really do not recall NASA having quite so many basic problems with its Saturn V launch rocket in the 1960s.

You might call me, cynical, but I think that might be down to the motivation for the two projects. NASA had a clearly defined public goal, backed by the state.

Musk has an ill-defined private goal, backed by a profit motive, his excessive wealth, and his ego.

I am not, of course, saying that this explains the technical reason for yesterday’s failure. But, at a deeper level it might explain why Musk seems to have so many successive failures.

Maybe there are things for which the profit motive is not suited. Let me just float that idea.

Musk is building rockets faster, cheaper, than NASA. Both driven by that profit motive. He’s bringing down the cost per lb into orbit, grossly lower than Nasa can do it – driven by that profit motive.

Therefore space rockets are something that shouldn’t be driven by the profit motive?


33 thoughts on “Good God. The man actually said this”

  1. Does he think a tech support rep in Bangalore cares more about helping senior citizens with computer issues than their own grandkids?

  2. “NASA had a clearly defined public goal, backed by the state.”

    Well that’s a lie right there. The goal backed by the state (or at least the representatives) is to shovel money into their constituencies. Which is why NASA stuff is made in as many states as possible, regardless of whether they make sense. The Shuttle boosters were made in segments rather than one piece because otherwise they could not have been shipped from where they were made to the launch pad. There were alternative facilities which could have made them in one piece, but they already had their own shovel-loads.
    So, people died as a result.

  3. But, at a deeper level it might explain why Musk seems to have so many successive failures.

    Fucking moron. SpaceX’s development method of try-fail-learn-iterate-succeed explains why they subsequently have so many successive successes. Falcon 9 launches (in the hundreds) are now so routine they are not newsworthy.


  4. The SpaceX development methodology is rapid iterative design. They produce an initial design for a new vehicle and test it. Then they use the results from that test to improve the design, construction techniques or operational procedures. They repeat this cycle many times as rapidly as possible, until the design is sufficiently reliable for commercial use. They accept that there will be multiple failures during this process, and with rockets that inevitably means plenty of explosions. But it means that each new design gets tested very thoroughly before it is trusted to carry astronauts or satellites belonging to paying customers.

  5. NASA would have run this many tests (probably a hell of a lot more) if it weren’t that they had people onboard. This is what spaceflight research looks like in the modern world when a computer can pilot a rocket.

    “Man Is The Lowest Cost, 150 Pound, Nonlinear, All-purpose Computer System Which Can Be Mass Produced By Unskilled Labor.” NASA 1965

  6. I’m pretty sure Robert Goddard had a lot of spectacular failures too, until he developed a design and tech that worked. It’s called R&D – you fail a lot before you succeed, especially when trying new things.

    Agree with Tim: Apollo 1 rocket disaster, Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters – NASA’s killed a lot of astronauts. It’s also the nature of the beast – back then, they needed humans to fly the rockets and the humans who took the job knew the risks. Today, computers can fly the rockets or humans can remotely with the help of onboard computers, so less risk to human life. Rockets are expendable, humans less so – to private entities, I guess. To governments, I’m not so sure. Governments can get away with things a lot easier than private companies can.

  7. @M

    The Apollo program did have a “clearly defined public goal”, if “public” includes Cold War strategic imperatives. The purpose of it was to demonstrate technological and economic superiority over the Soviet Union by doing something spectacular that the Soviets couldn’t emulate. That’s why the US government was willing to spend so much to reach the moon first, and also why the program was shut down so quickly once that goal had been achieved. It was too expensive to continue for long – NASA received 4.4% of the federal budget in 1966 – and every additional flight carried the risk of a fatal accident that would tarnish the program’s success.

  8. I seem to recall old newsreel films of America’s failed early attempts to launch a rocket.

    As for the profit motive. By far the best way to get anything done well is to allow enterprising people the freedom to make money out of doing it. This has always been true and probably always will be no matter how much Marxists want it not to be.

  9. Retired Accountant from Uranus

    Candidly, all rockets should be constructed by the Courageous State (at Peenemunde)

  10. Of course all the lefty comment everywhere is “Har, Har Musk’s rocket went bang. What a loser!”. Some may understand his process (which El Spuddo manifestly doesn’t) but they will take any chance to snipe at him. I don’t think even his ultimate success with this big bird will change that.

  11. So now we have a technical assessment from a guy has problems hacking bits for a kid’s toy train set.

  12. From my vague memories of NASA’s rocket launches, Musk seems to have had fewer bangs.

    But I agree. The whole process is trial and error. It’s good that computer tech means less risk to human life. At least at present.

  13. NASA’s successfully launched their first SLS rocket in November of last year. The second launch is scheduled for November 2024. The previous launch of a NASA designed “rocket” was Space Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011.

    SpaceX successfully launched 21 orbital rockets in the first quarter of this year. This was an average of 4.2 days between launches.

  14. heh…yeah… It’s amazing how many rockets, and static-fire rocket engines.., NASA blew up in the development of the Atlas and Saturn series.
    And that was after von Braun had already ironed out the worst basic problems..

    And of course, all of it was highly super-classified, and the only failures Joe Public saw were the public failures that weren’t supposed to happen, and carefully curated “see how difficult this is, yet we manage!!” propaganda.
    Which, now that things are declassified, have found their way to Youtube, making for hours of explosive fun. Not that the Potato would ever think of checking…

    SLS flew “first time” because it’s actually not a new rocket. It’s basically a Saturn V, running on space shuttle engines, with space shuttle boosters strapped to it.
    There’s literally nothing new about what actually makes that rocket go, and they had the Saturn V structural blueprints and live examples, for good measure, lying around in various places and musea to “redesign” the structure for the extra load and modern alloys.
    And even then NASA had some Engine Rich Exhaust and static-fire RUD episodes to deal with…

    NASA has blown up more rockets trying to go up, than SpaceX has trying to come down in a controlled landing.
    And most of those SpaceX RUDs were after the rockets had already fulfilled their primary purpose: getting Stuff up.

    But hey, Elyan Potato… Imagine him getting things right outside those two fleeting moments per day.

  15. “The second launch is scheduled for November 2024.”

    The first launch was originally supposed to be ten years ago, so you can take that date with a grain or two of salt.

    AndrewZ: Yes, it had this goal, succeeded in it, and then the usual law of bureaucracy took over (you can’t shut them down, people’s jobs are at stake…) By the time I was old enough to be conscious of NASA, they were already a solution in search of a problem – and I’m old enough to have used punch cards for programming.

    I am bitter for the wasted time and lost opportunities. But I am happy that it looks like we may actually get something right out of it – now that someone other than the government is in charge.

  16. It wasn’t an explosion, it was a rapid, unplanned disassembly. Learn from it, try again. Certain potatoes might want to take note. That’s how it’s done.

  17. Shiney – Up to 300 people were burned to death in a single rocket explosion in Baikonur in 1960, and radiation deformed children are still being born elsewhere in Kazakhstan thanks to Soviet nuclear testing.

  18. All of which led me to recall John Glenn’s concern while sitting atop two million bits assembled via government contract by the lowest tenderer.

  19. I read about this explosion over my Starlink internet. Fed by hundreds of EM’s satellites. Out in the boonies where there is otherwise no service.

    Yeah, EM is such a loser.

  20. Interestingly, NASA tried the rapid development approach on space probes a couple of decades back. They mostly broke and/or crashed into Mars. So, we can demonstrate that with a clear remit and state sponsorship, you can do *much worse* on a given budget than a private enterprise.

    Pretty sure that if SpaceX’s backers gave them that Apollo-equivalent $200bn then they’d reduce the error rate to zero. And still have $190bn to spend on the end of project knees up.

  21. So, mission goals for the first ever launch of a Super-heavy + Starship stack:

    1) Clear the launch tower (pass)
    2) Accelerate through max-Q (pass)
    3) Stage separation (fail)
    4) Destroy both stages in separate splashdowns (n/a)

    Not a bad success rate for a first launch of the heaviest rocket ever to fly. And the next launch is likely to be in a couple of months, not the couple of years it takes NASA to launch their next go.

  22. It wasn’t an explosion, it was a rapid, unplanned disassembly.

    The rapid disassembly was planned, in that they used the self destruct system to have lots of small bits raining down instead of one or two big bits. But they had to blow it to pieces because there had been a lot of relatively slow unplanned disassembly up to that point.

    The basic problem was the launch pad was dangerously under-engineered for the force of the massed engines, and the rocket and everything around was battered by large chunks of concrete. Huge damage. Engines were immediately knocked out which meant the vessel was doomed. It’s amazing it didn’t blow up before it cleared the tower.

    This was pretty much an unforced error because they knew about the potential problem three years ago. The next Starship launch is unlikely to be soon.

  23. @ Bloke in Wales
    I and 2 are not really passes.

    At liftoff the rocket partially destroyed the launch site and fatally wounded itself in the process.

    Although it did technically go through a max-Q, it wasn’t one in which the vessel was accelerating fast enough to reach stage separation height, let alone orbit.

  24. The important factor is how fast they can assemble rocket + spaceship + launchpads. Commercial satellite injection has got that down to “blown up? get the next one out of stores”.

  25. @Charles Brecknell I’ve taken the time to sit through the video you linked, and honestly… I can’t shake the feeling there is a not insignificant amount of Salt involved in that particular one.

    It certainly offers an “Alternative View”. A pretty strong one at that.
    And one, judging from the rest of the video’s produced by this worthy as displayed on his channel page, that has a curious, I’d almost say ..obsessive.. focus of interest and subject.

    I must admit I had a chuckle or two on the use of the term “Vapourware” regarding Musk’s ambitions, when the author proceeds to blatantly plug the X33 and Star Raker projects as the One True Way to space.
    Especially given the fact that those particular projects never got beyond some CGI promo videos and impressive-looking concept drawings.
    You can clearly see where the development budget went, especially considering the quality of the CGI of some videos considering the technical capabilities of the time they were made.

    But yes, it is indeed an Opinion. One, obviously, with its own adherents.
    Although I must say that personally, in this case, I must agree with the classification the YouTube suggestion algorythm seems to give this particular channel, judging from the viewing suggestion ribbon.
    Which is, indeed, “Alternative”.

  26. “I really do not recall NASA having quite so many basic problems with its Saturn V launch rocket in the 1960s.”

    NASA launch failures were a running joke in the late ’50s.

    “But, at a deeper level it might explain why Musk seems to have so many successive failures.“

    SpaceX has had 25 successful orbital launches this year. That’s more than all the other American and European platforms managed between them in the whole of 2022.

    Man’s an absolute ignoramus.

    “SLS flew “first time” because it’s actually not a new rocket. It’s basically a Saturn V, running on space shuttle engines, with space shuttle boosters strapped to it.“

    Space Shuttle engines that were built to be reusable, at that. Now NASA’s just burning ’em up. The Raptor’s a full-flow staged combustion cycle engine, probably the most complicated rocket engine ever built. The Soviets tried one in the ’60s and never flew it, the USAF funded research into one about 20 years ago, and never built it. But Elon’s blew up so hur, hur, hur.

  27. I suspect that Musk is only partially driven by a profit motive. There are other factors at play in what drives him. However, any investors are betting big on him and he likely uses financial incentives to attract employees, but even many of them are driven by more than profit. There’s something about working on something unique, or at least rare, that carries its own reward. The money, of course, helps.

  28. Werner von Braun had a lot of rocket failures while testing the V2 at the Peenemünde rocket plant. As the saying goes “He aimed for the stars, yet kept hitting London”. Do we count those deaths and the countless slave labourers and innocent Londoners killed against NASA’s total?

    As for failures, the Yanks recovered vast numbers of V2’s, later models and half assembled units and shipped them back to the desert in 1945 along with the Nazis like von Braun and others. Apart from a few carefully choreographed films all the rockets that were flown, little evidence of their success or failure in the desert survives, but after nearly a decade the Redstone rocket design emerged and went on to provide the foundation of both the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

    The Soviets lost hundreds during the development of their manned space program, but had the ability to keep it quiet for the most part, unlike NASA where every major launch was on live TV in realtime.

    What SpaceX are doing is the hard learning that NASA can no longer afford to do. By outsourcing the contracts to SpaceX, NASA is also outsourcing the responsibility for failure to SpaceX. That’s hard, justified and the right thing to do. If NASA had the balls to do that in the 1970’s we’d probably be a lot further forward than we are, but that’s water under the bridge.

    Elon has said that he thinks the likelihood of getting Starship to orbit by the end of 2023 is about 80%. I’m prepared to believe that, if he can find somewhere to actually launch from. Without a decent flame trench and water deluge system, Boca Chica is looking unlikely.

    The destruction of this single launch to Starbase looks like a small nuke went off and a lot of the reasons for the failure to reach orbit appear to lie at the concrete and steel being thrown about by the launch and subsequent damage to the Super Heavy engines. It’s not a hard stop, but there is substantial work needed before they can launch from their again.

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