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That Elon Musk’s no good at his job

Two US astronauts will be left on the International Space Station (ISS) for almost two weeks longer than planned because of faults with the Boeing spacecraft designed to return them to Earth.

Nasa said Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams would not return to Earth on board the Boeing Starliner until June 26.

The vehicle has been plagued by helium leaks and thruster issues, in the latest setback to Boeing’s space programme which has been beset by delays and high costs.

The ISS mission was Boeing’s first crewed space launch after more than a decade of planning and two launches had been aborted at late notice.

Myself I think what he’s done at SpaceX is more impressive than Tesla. But the base and underlying trick is the same. To have been able to drive for mass manufacturing much earlier in the development process than anyone thought possible and so get to economies of scale.

36 thoughts on “That Elon Musk’s no good at his job”

  1. I’ve seen suggestions that part of why SpaceX is more successful than his other ventures is that they don’t let him near the day to day stuff. They smile and nod when he comes up with the more extravagant stuff and then get on with doing what actually needs done.
    Unlike Tesla and Twitter, where he fired swathes of people seemingly on a whim and then had to hire some of them back because they were actually doing useful work.

  2. but long term engineers including Tom Mueller who designed rockets in SpaceX for 18 years have a very different view.

  3. ..being more direct, engineers who actually work with Musk such as Tom Mueller very much describe him as an extremely capable hands on engineer and a very capable leader who has an enormous capability to absorb detailed complex knowledge.

  4. Musk is good at Hard Sums, but I saw an interview once where he badly misunderstood Newtonian mechanics and the role of rocket fuel.

  5. The funny thing is that it’s not just the economies that come with scale, it’s the reliability. You use more automation in car manufacturing, your robot that fits a windscreen isn’t just cheaper, but every windscreen is fitted to within fractions of a mm, every time. Your cars are sprayed more consistently than any human can do it. Toyotas are so good because of how much they think about process and automation.

    And because Starlink depends on reliable, repeated launches, SpaceX have the same mentality as Toyota making a Yaris. Someone develops a computer controlled barge that the rockets can land on, so they can collect them and put them back into service ASAP. Took them a few attempts to get that right, but it does it almost every time now. Most of the space industry is craft.

  6. I always thought Elon was just a hustler but I have warmed to him over the last couple of years, particularly his sense of humour:
    “You literally told them to make the Starship more pointy because of the movie ‘The Dictator?'” a chuckling Rogan asked.
    “Yep. And they know it, too,” Musk replied with a laugh. “It’s not like they’re unaware of it. I thought it would be funny to make it more pointy, so we did.”

    Also, the high spec Tesla Model S is known as the Plaid – a reference to Spaceballs.

    He might still be a hustler though……

  7. BiND liking Danish supermarkets - no radio, no constant adverts.

    “ The vehicle has been plagued by helium leaks and thruster issues,”

    That looks like penny pinching. I’d be willing to bet that they are over engineered in Space X vehicles because the cost of failure far outweighs the cost of over engineering, something Boeing seems to have forgotten a very long time ago.

  8. How soon before they announce the Boeing Starliner is too risky to bring the astronauts back on, and do an empty re-entry to see if it works?
    Then they can phone SpaceX for a Dragon taxi home.

    Or they ask the two astronauts to be human guinea pigs.
    There’s no good outcome for Boeing.

  9. “How soon before they announce the Boeing Starliner is too risky to bring the astronauts back on, and do an empty re-entry to see if it works?
    Then they can phone SpaceX for a Dragon taxi home.”

    quite risky as it will leave too many astronauts on the ISS without an effective life raft (the docked Soyuz is too small for all of them).

  10. I get the impression that since the McDonnell-Douglas merger in the ’90s, Boeing became a lot more focussed on short term savings at the expense of long-term ones. SpaceX has a much longer time horizon.

    As such, Starliner will have been built on “what’s the cheapest part that will just about do the job” vs. “what’s the best part for the job” and somebody will have got a bonus for saving a few $k on the parts that are causing trouble now.

    On top of that, my understanding is that Starliner was designed as a monolith, where any changes led to the whole thing having to be redone (to a degree) while Dragon was designed more modularly with the interfaces between modules being defined and the individual teams responsible for the parts having pretty free rein to do what they like within those confines, a far more software-y approach that, combined with rapid iteration allows for some spectacular failures early on, but which can be very quickly improved upon. The first test of starhopper was in March 2019, and look how far they’ve come in 5-and-a-bit years.

  11. That’s the legend about John Glenn . As he boarded Mercury, he comforted himself with the knowledge that all the parts had been provided by the lowest bidders.

  12. SpaceX is impressive. Period.

    People can rag on Musk all they like, but Spaceship, and what they’re testing is a magnificent feat of imagineering and engineering. And good internet TV.
    The Falcon range is impressive in its capabilities, and people tend to forget that with that range alone, SpaceX can already replace the ISS with whatever they come up with, should Starship prove too tricky.

    There’s plenty of people who would like to see him Cancelled, but ultimately he’s a man who gets things done.
    And those people are generally …controversial…, and unequivocally hated by the professional parasites.
    Which makes for some amusing reading as well, as the butthurt and pantytwisting is … glorious to behold.

  13. Boeing was allowed to self certify their planes. Safe and effective, yes sirree!

    I wonder how the quality control on their spaceships works.

  14. I’m puzzled here. Maybe my “British” filter is acting up.

    What in the world does Elon Musk have to do with the problems of this launch and return?

    The Starliner capsule is designed and built by Boeing as a rival to SpaceX. It was launched on an Atlas rocket, again nothing to do with SpaceX.

    These are Boeing problems, not SpaceX.

    Or should there have been a /sarc tag on the post?

  15. The contrast between SpaceX, which has designed and built the Falcon9 series, and Dragon capsule, with an incredible price point and impressive safety record, and also gone on the develop SuperHeavy and Starship, which after only 4 test flights is looking close to readiness……and Boeing, who failed the first unmanned Starliner flight, and took 3 goes to launch this 3rd flight, with a catalogue of failures….and Nasa’s Space Pork System (aka Shuttle Leftover Shit) is truly incredible.

    We cannot have excellence like that showing up Goverment troughers, he must be cancelled at once!
    Shame about the cars though.

  16. BiND found the nice bits of Denmark.

    “ Boeing was allowed to self certify their planes. Safe and effective, yes sirree!”

    When they had all their old school engineers they were probably better qualified to do the certification than the regulators and more conscientious.

  17. @TtC I’m just about as enthousiastic about a car that cannot be self-serviced, needs updates, can be killed off remotely, tries to think for you, and Phones Home harder than Microsoft or SAP ever tried as one can expect, but the technology that drives it is actually quite impressive.

    With the current Mudfests that festivals are, Teslas are actually proving useful, because when handled well, they can pull wheeled stuff out of the mud where small tractors fail.
    Incredible torque control and power.
    Wouldn’t want to be found alive or dead in one, but I have to admit … the basics of the car are good.

  18. On modular design – that’s how the Astute class subs were designed, especially the shooty bit which I have first hand knowledge of. Interfaces were first to be set up. And rules on changing anything. And requirements cascades. That bit I got to know a lot about.

  19. Pops was on Polaris through to Trident (headed the engineering on that last). You could get him going for hours on interfaces. Hours and hours. Do what you like inside them, changing them is a big, big, deal.

  20. An electric car is fine if you are OK with throwing your car away as frequently as your smartphone.

    Old joke about full ashtray about to be extended to all car owners…

  21. BiND in very expensive to eat out Denmark

    Slight aside:

    The main reason for the success of GSM was that they defined the air interface* and let the market decide on handsets which brought the cost down very quickly.

    *they defined a few others but manufacturers paid lip service to those and they weren’t as critical to its success.

  22. BiND,

    Denmark is atrociously expensive for everything. But if you like Thai food, try, assuming it is still there, the Thai restaurant (Blue Elephant??) in the Copenhagen Radisson. Since you are going to pay a lot anyway…

  23. Germans go on holiday to Denmark because they don’t want to be perceived as cheap by holidaying in Switzerland.

  24. BiG,

    Not heading to Copenhagen (this time), but thanks for the tip as we like Asian food.

    My bet is Germans heading north pack their vehicles with booze and food before crossing the border. That’s our plans for a trip to the north of Denmark next year because the supermarket food doesn’t look particularly appetising.

    Of course the problem with that is you end up with a boot full of stuff that has a 25c deposit 🙂

  25. If you are keen on good food you don’t, as a rule, go to Scandinavia. Or the Netherlands. Or Belgium. Or Germany, come to think of it. There is a kind of permanent food quality low pressure system hanging over these countries.

  26. I’ve heard that Swedes/ Noggies do weekend trips to Denmark as the booze is cheaper there, the Danes head to Germany for the same reason, do Germans head to France / Spain /Greece for the same reason?

    I’ve actually had some damn fine Smorrbrod in Copenhagen, ( I like herrring) years ago mind but eating out there wasn’t noticeably more expensive than Aberdeen for mid market stuff.

    Spoons have probably changed the bottom end of the UK market beyond recognition, setting a floor that most of the rest of the trade now has to meet.

  27. If you are keen on good food you don’t, as a rule, go to … Belgium.
    Where the hell have you been eating in Belgium, BiG? Living right on the Fr/Be frontier, it was always a toss up which country to eat in. Most often the coin fell Be side up. The country’s got loads of fantastic little restaurants which serve excellent food & are GVFM. Brussels? Ghastly place I always stay well clear of.

  28. You’re right bis. I did have a fine meal in Belgium once, and it is sullied only by the enduring memory of motorway service station fayre. Most of my experience of Belgium is as an inconvenience / traffic jam on the way to Calais.

  29. BiND enjoying some schoolboy humour in the town of Middlefart


    From my observation and quick exchange rate calculations booze in Denmark is about same as UK and both >> than Germany. From my trips on the France/Germany border they’re about the same both sides, but you’d expect that.

    It’s a very long time since I was in Sweden and Norway and they were eye watering expensive.

  30. BiND, so next year will you be visiting Fucking in Austria?

    Some wag once branded a beer after it, and you could buy, appropriately expensively, bottles of “Fucking Hell”.

  31. “Not the 9 o’clock News” had a sketch about Belgian food, and how to signal your approval by belching. It ended with the lines:
    “But suppose you wished to signal that this is the finest meal I have ever eaten?”
    “Not a very likely contingency in Belgium!”
    (the latter line delivered by Rowan Atkinson)

    It’s aged about as well as the Python sketch about Australian wine.

  32. BiG,

    Now there’s an idea, we haven’t planned next year’s trips yet. I won’t tell Mrs B why Austria until we get there otherwise it will be vetoed.

    On drinks pricing, as we crossed the border back in to Germany on an ‘A’ road the first shop was advertising itself in Danish as a wine trader. The Rewe supermarket on the outskirts of Flensburg had all the booze prizes dual priced, adverts in Danish and crates of canned beer and boxes of wine. This is unusual in this chain and I usually have to ask for them when I’m shopping for drinks to take home.

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