Greatness II

Tim Urban relates the utterly awesome story of the SpaceX boost-phase:

This was a venture few sane investors would touch, and the ability for the company to exist rode largely on Elon Musk’s personal bank account. By the time 2006 rolled around, Musk had decided to revolutionize the automotive industry as a side project, and with $70 million of his PayPal fortune tied up in Tesla, that left about $100 million for SpaceX. Musk said this would be enough for “three or four launches.” SpaceX would have that many tries to prove it was worthy of paying customers. And since the thing paying customers would want is for SpaceX to deliver a payload of theirs into orbit, that’s what SpaceX needed to do — successfully launch something into orbit to show the world that they were for real. […] So the game was simple — launch a payload into orbit in three or possibly four tries, or the company was done. At the time, of the many private companies who had tried to put something into orbit (see the dearth of “operational” companies on this list), only one had ever succeeded (Orbital Sciences).

[…] … with such large forces in play — the weight of the rocket, the speeds, the thick atmosphere — even a tiny equipment malfunction can immediately destroy the mission. The problem is, you can’t reliably test exactly how the equipment will hold up until it actually launches.

SpaceX learned all of this the hard way.

2006: First launch — failure

2007: Second launch — failure

2008: Third launch — failure

Bad times.

The failures were caused by tiny things. Specifically, a corroded nut not holding up under the pressure, liquid in the rocket sloshing around more than expected, and the first stage engines shutting down a few seconds too late during stage separation. You can get everything 99.9% right, and the last .1% will explode the rocket in a catastrophic failure. Space is hard.

Every rocket-launching government or company — each and every one — has failures. It’s part of the gig. Normally, you take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, figure out what went wrong, and move on to the next launch. But SpaceX had special circumstances — the company had money for “three or four launches,” and after three failures, the only launch they had left was the Or Four one. It was scheduled for less than two months after the third launch failed. And this was the last chance.

A friend of Musk, Adeo Ressi, describes it like this: “Everything hinged on that launch … If it works, epic success. If it fails — if one thing goes differently and it fails — epic failure. No in between. No partial credit. He’d had three failures already. It would have been over. We’re talking Harvard Business School case study — rich guy who goes into the rocket business and loses it all.”

But on September 28, 2008, SpaceX set off the fourth launch — and nailed it. They put a dummy payload into orbit without a hitch, becoming only the second privately-funded company ever to do so.

Falcon 1 was also the most cost-efficient rocket ever to launch — priced at $7.9 million, it cost less than a third of the best US alternative at the time.

NASA took notice. The successful fourth launch was enough evidence for them that SpaceX was worth trusting, and at the end of 2008, NASA called Musk and told him they wanted to offer SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract to make 12 deliveries for them to the ISS.

Musk’s money had done its job. SpaceX had customers now and a long future ahead.

(Cosmic-scale context, Mars project momentum, and footnotes, in the original.)

There’s much more.

Bonus: Musk talks Mars (and Bonus+ there’s the “summoning the demon” moment in the Q&A).

August 19, 2015admin 36 Comments »


36 Responses to this entry

  • Hattori Says:

    Very hyped to see the falcon heavy in action, a real shame it seems to have been pushed to 2016. Still, it’s coming up.


    Posted on August 19th, 2015 at 4:08 pm Reply | Quote
  • Greatness II | Neoreactive Says:

    […] By admin […]

    Posted on August 19th, 2015 at 4:10 pm Reply | Quote
  • Chris B Says:

    This is enormous disconnect between your lauding of escape and frontiers, and your calls for autocratic governance. The link between exit and escape and non-governence is unmistakable, in fact even Carlyle makes note of it in LDP

    “Only perhaps in the United States, which alone of countries can do without governing,every man being at least able to live, and move off into the wilderness, let Congress jargon as it will,can such a form of so-called Government continue for any length of time to torment men with the semblance, when the indispensable substance is not there. ”

    I’m also seeing the disconnect in your position on blockchain governance and constitutions. How exactly does abrogating leadership and human judgement to code/ formula/ (electoral democracy…) and whatever other totalizing system connect with reaction? there is a complete rejection of the idea of putting someone ( a leader with leadership ability) in control.


    Aeroguy Reply:

    Autocracy is merely a means to stabilizing existing civilization and conflict a thing to be celebrated. Frontiers make room for the outside, for expansion mutation and most importantly the negation of stagnation, the outside keeps the inside honest or else it’s bonobos all the way down.


    Chris B Reply:

    Frontiers allow for malthusian ignoring ideas to flourish and forces existing civs to follow or lose population. The frontier is demonstrably the bonobo fest. I can’t help but think this whole thing is back to front.


    Aeroguy Reply:

    Your mistake is treating all frontiers as fungible. They most certainly are not. Your distaste is sourced from references gleaned from the American frontier. In actuality what we both find abhorrent are edens, the soft environments where bonobos above all else thrive. For settlers coming from Europe the Americas were a eden. It wasn’t a true eden which is why the settlers didn’t degrade too significantly but eden enough for leftists to thrive. Space on the other hand represents the most hostile of frontiers. A place totally alien and utterly unforgiving, the earth is the eden next to this hostile lifeless environment. The lifelessness of it is proof enough that only the most hardy can survive in such. When survival is the focus, bonobos are not selected.

    In contrast suppose you did have a secure authoritarian singleton over the Earth. As we know from Bertrand de Jouvenel “In this way the people ruled becomes in some sort an extension of the ruler’s ego; his sensations of pleasure in them are at first positive and then reflex – that is to say, the pleasure is no longer simply that of moving so many pieces, but has become a deeply felt consciousness of whatever affects any one of them. At that point the egoism of Power extends to the whole people, and its identification with them is complete.” “A secure hold on Power and its descent in a regular line assured the maximum of identification of egoism with the general advantage” Did you forget that it can be inferred that the result would be the same as always, to work to create eden, a heaven on earth. The very place where bonobos thrive most and leftist status posturing has the greatest advantage.

    Scott wrote a great piece about this.
    “When people are no longer constrained by reality, they spend most of their energy in signaling games. This is why rich people build ever-bigger yachts and fret over the parties they throw and who got invited where. It’s why heirs and heiresses so often become patrons of the art, or donors to major charities. Once you’ve got enough money, the next thing you need is status, and signaling is the way to get it.

    So the people of this final utopia will be obsessed with looking good. They will become moralists, and try to prove themselves more virtuous than their neighbors. Their sophistication will gradually increase as each tries to establish themselves as a critic, as tasteful, as a member of an aristocracy that can no longer be defined in terms of money. They will become conniving, figuring out ways to raise their own social status at their neighbors’ expense. Or they will devolve into a host of competing subcultures, united only by their pride in their defiance of a “norm” which is quickly ceasing to exist.”

    So anything that starts smelling utopian is self defeating. The other problem you have is getting a sovereign with a long term outlook to ignore x-threat. The smaller the group the easier it is to control but conversely it’s also more likely to be destroyed utterly by accidents of nature. Expansion is exactly the sort of thing a egoist sovereign will pursue (granted this is more of an Atlantian disposition, but I am Atlantian) unless held back by social convention. From Jouvenel “It is a noteworthy fact that all the greatest political mistakes stem from defective appraisals of the common good – mistakes from which egoism, had it been called into consultation, would have warned Power off. Take, for example, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.” The example given was a case of a sovereign going against his own long term security interests in favor of religious purity. It is also worth noting that the decline of Rome and the building of Hadrian’s wall coincide, the Northern frontiers were cold and uninviting, they went unpursued and from those unexplored frontiers came the forces that would help destroy Rome. Granted the pattern of conquerors leading to high low is present, but in that absence of a conquered people there is no low.

    The expansion into space is nothing like the American frontier, rather it’s resemblance is far greater to the migrations of our ancestors in prehistory leaving the African eden into the cold European frontier.


    chris b Reply:

    @Chris BFrontiers are clearly fungible to admin, and when the purpose of the frontier is to escape governance and the dark question of leadership they are fungible. There’s a childishness and stupidity in the anglo tradition of contrained governence/ constitution/ demmocracy etc which betrays a refusal to engage with reality. It’s whig 101 and is formed atop the idea of equality. If all are equal then none one is fit to lead, or everyone is. Hence why we have the absurd spectacle of an Obama or a Cameron as figure heads of nations. I would have thought one of the biggest, if not the biggest, point to draw from MM is that this nonsense needs to stop and the big boy pants needs to be put on the anglo tradition.

    admin Reply:

    If the implication there is that any imaginable politician is worthy of the kind of respect appropriate to a Satoshi Nakamoto, I’m just going to have to laugh.

    Aeroguy Reply:

    I’m on the fence regarding upgrading rule of law to rule of code. I see it as actually being of the greatest benefit to the authoritarian since he would be the high admin of the code and enabled to delegate his authority to that code with 100% confidence in the loyalty of the code, the code becomes a de jure and de facto extension of the sovereign’s will. The trouble comes as always in discretion. To be able to fit into code all the wisdom of even a single experienced competent judge would be a true feat and difficult to distinguish from strong AI if it could even be distinguished at all. For code to continue being the tool of the sovereign and not the other way around would require that the sovereign itself be more complex than the code. The code being a subroutine of the larger program (biological/mechanical/hybrid whatever) that is the sovereign itself.

    My problem with this is that for the code to be effective in administration it still has to be complex enough to account for the complexity of the society it rules. If the sovereign is more complex than the society than the society is merely a distraction. Further such a sovereign at that point would be for practical purposes an entirely different species and as a species, must submit to the will of Gnon and replicate itself or go extinct. Thus the problem of delegating the subtle art of discretion with absolute trust remains unsolved unless x-risk isn’t a concern (a dangerous departure from reality).

    Chris B Reply:

    @AeroguyThe sov is either in control or not. If not then you have ceded control to set of parameters which are basically bureaucratic. Sure it cant mutate and grow, which is about its only plus. But even then, as you point out, the maintainers of that code are defcto rulers, which does not strike you as comparable to the manner in which the rule by democracy become de facto rule by the maintainers of democracy? (media, schools etc.) and bringing AI into the discussion strikes me as a deus ex machina. Utopian even.

    @admin Leader = politician? You are dragging things very far from “Carlyle as Jesus” MM theorizing, aren’t you?.

    admin Reply:

    Democracy is a bad protocol. It doesn’t at all follow that protocols are bad.

    Artxell Knaphni Reply:

    [Aeroguy]: “If the sovereign is more complex than the society than the society is merely a distraction. Further such a sovereign at that point would be for practical purposes an entirely different species”

    {AK}: “For practical purposes” of that species understanding (the “bonobo” understanding).
    “Sovereign” understanding would transcend “bonobo” specificities; would transcend, though it would not need to neglect, the crutches of the very formalisations of ‘identity’ requiring specificity.
    The specificity of “sovereign understanding” disappears upon realisation.

    Chris B Reply:

    The whole rejection of governance protocols is kind of built into the “put someone in charge” exhortation that formalism is based on.


    admin Reply:

    Sure. I treat that as an unfortunate interim requirement, while algo gov tech is being put together. (Almost there now.)

    (OK, that’s trollish. I’ll respond more seriously when I get a chance. Key point in the interim though — there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to improve the quality of degenerating government in the democratic epoch by anyone here, and there are actually some positive things going on in the world deserving of attention. The whole quality-of-government topic — once the initial face-palming phase is over — threatens to be a massive, sterile, time-suck. Even if, in some strict theoretical sense, it’s the most important thing (questionable, IMHO), it doesn’t follow that it’s the thing most worthy of time commitment. That fosters the political mentality, which is exactly what NRx is trying to wean everyone off.)


    chris b Reply:

    I’m reading that as prelude to explaining how MM is wrong in pretty much everything he wrote,given his whole UR thing was calling for the improvement of governance via responsibility, judgement and actual person leadership (embodied in formalism.) A Carlyle update for the 21st Century.

    This should be interesting.

    admin Reply:

    That’s the inward (domestic) face, which — when not trolling — has the obsessions you do (government, i.e. social management). The outward face is Patchwork. It’s the orientation that fuses onto Szabo themes, P2P systems, experimental government, descriptive AnCap, and all things good.

    Posted on August 19th, 2015 at 4:57 pm Reply | Quote
  • Greatness II | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on August 19th, 2015 at 7:50 pm Reply | Quote
  • vxxc2014 Says:

    Thank you Admin.



    Posted on August 19th, 2015 at 9:38 pm Reply | Quote
  • peter connor Says:

    Unfortunately, the Mars Project is very difficult and not making much progress at this point–but Musk does seem willing to pour a lot of resources into it. We desperately need that new frontier….


    Posted on August 19th, 2015 at 11:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • peter connor Says:

    However, I strongly disagree with Musk’s assumptive statement that we could go to Mars now for astronomical amounts of money. Absolutely not true, the technology does not exist… transport live humans to the Martian surface.


    Posted on August 19th, 2015 at 11:41 pm Reply | Quote
  • michael Says:

    should have asked a prole for help us idiots all know that aircraft grade 286ss nuts wont corrode, fuel tanks always need baffles and Im guessing shutting that engine down couldnt be so hard its only rocket science


    michael Reply:

    heres the engine problem at 17;40


    Posted on August 20th, 2015 at 12:07 am Reply | Quote
  • michael Says:

    seriously though i think the play is to bring mars to us its warmer here it might take a hundred years to move it but youde make that back on just a couple years of resupply trips and it could be terra formed if it were closer to the sun and could be gotten to easily. we could sell mars real estate futures to finance building a reactor on mars from martian material to nudge it south.


    Neocolonial Reply:

    You think re-orbiting a planet…

    Inertia is a thing.

    And the remarkable thing is that being successful would be worse than failure. Solar system is pleasantly stable these days…


    michael Reply:

    shit mars has no magnetic field to hold an atmosphere and is 1/10 the mass of earth so less gravity and of course it would effect earth being that close tough problems
    but it could easily be moved using meteors whipped around venus.
    Ok so maybe we could counterbalance the three body problem by moving another planet in from the other side
    or what if we actually ganged earth and mars could our magnetism serve both planets and the gravity ought to move to the center of the average of the masses or something and the three body pull goes away
    two problems the easy one is probably the delicate coupling, the hard one is the gravitational interaction while in transit
    you guys are smart figure it out i command you


    Posted on August 20th, 2015 at 12:51 am Reply | Quote
  • michael Says:

    [Admin: This is in the stocks for tone-lowering]

    we could land it on africa LOL


    Posted on August 20th, 2015 at 3:39 am Reply | Quote
  • Butler Says:

    Who awards a $1.6 billion dollar contract to a company with a 75% failure rate?
    A 75% “Honest to god the thing blew up in a giant fireball help it’s raining hot shrapnel” failure rate?

    If you give that contract, you might just be:
    A government agency.


    admin Reply:

    But they made the right call, surely? Nineteen of the next twenty launches were all successful.

    I’d be relatively chilled if SpaceX was a government agency — but it works, so that’s unlikely. Check out the part of the story about SpaceX being locked out of defense contracts, and you’ll probably begin to think this story-line is unsustainable.


    Butler Reply:

    I don’t dispute that NASA gambling on SpaceX was a successful gamble.
    My point is that I don’t see how they can have thought it was a SMART gamble, staring at a 75% failure rate.
    Sometimes, a bet on the long horse wins. That doesn’t mean it’s a wise investment.

    Put it this way: I bet the NASA comptrollers wouldn’t have given $1.6 billion of their own money to Musk. But throwing MY tax funds around on something that explodes three times out of four? A-OK.

    (* Although in fairness I’d rather they spend my taxes on very expensive fireworks than Dem Programs)
    (** And I’m a penniless student who is neither American nor a taxpayer, so it’s only “my tax funds” in the sense that I am suffering from vicarious internalisation of the metropole)
    (*** Which sounds more painful than it actually is)


    admin Reply:

    It’s not that I disagree with any of that. Still, it’s good to see WashCorp resources spent on space colonization rather than Cathedral development projects.

    Butler Reply:

    Fair point; it does seem kinda churlish for me to complain about monies that ARE being spent on space.

    I can’t shake this nagging worry about letting the Cathedral escape the gravity well, though. You can run from your necessary accommodation with Gods of the Copybook Headings for a lot longer when you have a whole solar system / galaxy / full cosmic endowment of resources to squander.

    admin Reply:

    He has a green thing going on definitely — but I’m finding his electro-capitalism a whole lot more appetizing than the prevailing exhortations in the direction of eco-communism. The Tim Urban piece on Tesla Motors is quite fascinating. It’s hard to come away from it without the sense that the internal combustion engine is a weird steam-punk relic that somehow crawled its way out of the 19th century.

    michael Reply:

    I think its because there is failure of degree and limited success of degree.
    The success was he built entirely new rockets modern 95% in house. legacy companies out source everything to subs who outsource who outsource etc they even buy old soviet engines legacy programs cost 100x his cost for 60s technology,he designs fabricates every part in house and test in house vertical integration and total control and he has the mind to literally be in total awareness all the way down thats unheard of and he did it all in a few on a very large level his firs launch was a success even if it failed
    Then his failures were small , while its true any failure in rocketry is pretty much fatal his failures happened for very minor identifiable easily remedied causes ,not because of major deign flaws requiring a totally new approach.
    Im sure being green and having a well oiled political arm didnt hurt and he had a first rate crew which in a small community like rocket science everyone must have been well aware of.

    Posted on August 20th, 2015 at 8:11 am Reply | Quote
  • Blogospheroid Says:

    @Chris B

    I’m working on a spec to realise a variant on Szabo’s juristopia and I can confirm, it’s an absolute bitch to balance all the potential factors. I think with my limited mind, the closest I can get is an aristocracy of token holders. It could degenerate into democracy, but almost every new entrant would have PAID their way in. If B gets in via holiness signalling, then it would only be if A who was already on the network found the arguments persuasive and gave some tokens to B. I really don’t see ways to keep a community active and prevent the holiness spiral, unless the community itself was policing itself really carefully, like an aristocracy.


    Posted on August 21st, 2015 at 6:35 am Reply | Quote
  • This Week in Reaction (2015/08/23) | The Reactivity Place Says:

    […] that some atheists have a richer spiritual life than me. Also this week a bit of a hardon for Elon Musk. There are far worse things to get excited […]

    Posted on August 25th, 2015 at 4:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dots Says:


    he could fail a lot more and still bid under boeing


    Posted on August 30th, 2015 at 6:59 am Reply | Quote

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