Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Falcon Heavy

Watching Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy launch into space, seeing two of its boosters land with the kind of precision that looked like CGI and seeing, FFS, a Tesla car swinging round Earth with a manikin in the driver’s seat, had me the most excited about space travel and exploration I’ve been for an age. Why is this important? The rockets are reusable, the cost is coming down at an astounding rate but, most importantly, Musk is showing that space exploration and travel can be carried out by private sector enterprise. In fact it can be carried out better. We no longer have to wait for moribund, government-controlled bureaucratic behemoths like NASA to get us into space.

This launch also had another effect on me illustrated by a tweet I saw last night. I paraphrase: ‘There’s a Tesla car heading to Mars and you’re still on about Trump?’ In one evening I completely lost interest in politics and still feel that way this morning (but it will inevitably return).

There was one negative in this and that was the third booster failure. One of its engines failed to ignite (some fuel problem?) and it missed the drone ship to plummet into the sea at hundreds of miles an hour. But even this is a relatively minor mishap in something of this scale. Firstly, other rockets aren’t even reusable and, consequently, are a damned sight more expensive (“The nearest peer competitor is the Delta 4 Heavy at roughly half the thrust and from four to as much as ten times the cost.”). Secondly, it turns out that these rockets won’t be used again anyway since Spacex has the next iteration ready (I think).

There have been naysayers. Some feel that Musk should have sent some scientific instrument rather than a car, and that this was a crass publicity stunt. They have obviously failed to understand the financial aspect of the publicity generated by this stunt. Doubtless their inclination is for science under the aegis of big government, and they find private enterprise distasteful. Another, apparently on TV this morning (I didn’t see this since I don’t have a TV licence and therefore don’t watch live TV) was bemoaning the ‘pollution’ of space and of Mars by sending a car up. Beside the fact that the car will not actually end up on Mars, this is quite ridiculous politically correct ‘environmentally conscious’ virtue signaling. It also shows a complete failure to understand the barren hostile immensity beyond Earth. Seriously, fuck off.

Elon Musk is a man with a dream and he is not buggering about in achieving it. He wants us up in space, constantly, on Mars, on the moon and elsewhere. I love too that he is obviously also a lover of science fiction. Culture ship names and that ‘Don’t Panic’ on the dash screen of the Tesla demonstrate this. And his dream, in the end, has revitalized the dream of space exploration for us all. 


Jack Tallent said...

Discounting the importance of the showmanship ingredient is partly why history is full of brilliant, penniless dreamers.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Mr. Asher. You really nailed my own feelings on this latest episode. I have heard various complaints, some more reasonable than others. The last I read, late last evening, was a twitter user expressing her apprehension at the seeming zealotry with which she had observed people embracing what she called the surrendering of the exploration & exploitation of space into the hands of eccentric billionaires rather than governments.

My reply to her was something along the lines of: Private industry is going to accelerate the democratization of access to space by making it relatively affordable, relatively fast. Government is too wasteful and slow to do so, and subject to political whims. This development in general has been a beautiful dream of science fiction authors, and is a crucial plot element of many classic and contemporary novels. Musk himself has indeed gone to great pains to signal to us all that this is also a deeply held dream of his, that he has been inspired by great literary dreamers.

And anyway, government still has a monopoly on the use of force. Government space agencies will also be one of the primary benefactors of greatly reduced costs, and they have a strong oversight ability to make sure no one gets up to any dirty tricks. This whole episode is simultaneously a very minor first step in a long process, and a huge leap forward, and we should take this opportunity to be joyful and celebrate what it symbolizes. It some way it is comparable to a Henry Ford moment assembly-line moment for space exploration.

By all means, always be skeptical, but don't be shy in celebrating this moment. All signs point to it being a truly historic one.

Unknown said...

This is clearly a great moment in our history, and I will remember it till I die, rather than all the bickering and politicking going on around us right now. If an exponential curve actually had inflection points, this would be one in the growth of the human species...

Tim said...

Couldn’t agree more with these comments, the only disappointment is that Messrs Addams and Banks aren’t here to see this.

Mad Lemmey said...

Great comments sir.

Neil said...

A lot of this, was built on the knowledge that NASA obtained from the Apollo missions. However space x have improved upon it. Take the shielding for the dragon capsule. Also they way they work, in a very collaborative fashion. Engineers/designers and manufacturing in the same place.

NASA is so hampered by the way its funding is organized, by Congress and their protection of jobs in their own states.

Who but Congress would think that SLS is a good idea.

It is also with appreciating that musk has burnt through a lot of clever people.