Fanatical Complete Package Leaders Needed for Civilization Altering Greatness

Robert Zubrin describes what sets Elon Musk apart from the other Space Entrepreneurs. Elon Musk applied his wealth but also his passion with savvy leadership to create the success of SpaceX. There is also an urgent and fanatical ambition. Elon Musk also has successfully applied the best aspects of software management and development to cars and rockets. Elon is also applying automotive and factory insights from Tesla to SpaceX.

There were and are other who tried to create space companies. Many had wealth or resources that were in the range of what Elon Musk has. They did not apply sufficient urgency, commitment and personal leadership to bring about success.

Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, backed Stratolaunch Systems. Jeff Bezos, who leads Amazon, funds Blue Origin.

Space companies have received nearly $26 billion in investments from 2009 to 2019. OneWeb has raised $3.4 billion. They raised $500 million round in 2015, a $1.2 billion round in 2016 and $1.25 billion in 2019.

Teledesic was a satellite constellation company with funding from cellular pioneer Craig McCaw, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Bill Gates used technical and business leadership to build Microsoft. He had fanatical drive in the decades where he led Microsoft. Bill had business, software and technical capabilities that he applied with a fanatical drive to win.

Steve Jobs had fanatical drive that he applied to making great Apple products. This was combined with marketing, product and technical know-how.

Jeff Bezos applied his fanatical drive and urgency to building Amazon. Amazon has decades of doing whatever it took to grow as fast as possible. This urgency is not apparent in the development of Blue Origin.

How Does SpaceX and Elon Musk Improve Faster Than the Competition?

Kent Nebergall writes at Kent studied the success of SpaceX and Tesla. Elon brought methods from computer software development or other areas and applied them to cars and rockets.

Elon starts his engineering from first principles. He wants to know everything down to the physics of exactly why something is possible or impossible. He was thinking in terms of how much aluminum and how much titanium and fuel is used in a rocket. He compared the sum of the material cost and the rocket launch prices paid by customers of the rocket companies. Elon believed this could be many times cheaper.

Wood furniture is priced very closely to the cost of materials. Furniture has no price gained unless there is a highly skilled craftsmen who adds skill and artistry.

Elon next imagines what the perfect product would be like. He thinks of the Platonic ideal. Plato thought of the perfect sphere or perfect triangle. Elon considered the characteristics of the perfect electric car and the perfect rocket.

Skunk Works at SpaceX for Thermal Protection

SpaceX built an entire lab for thermal protection system research for re-entry vehicles. It became the best lab in the world in nine months starting from an empty room. They use rapid development cycles based on processes used for rapid fighter pilot reaction.

51% Experimentation Rule

SpaceX will test once they have a 51% chance of success. They will take the least amount of material that will get them valid results. NASA would wait until they had 80-90% chance of success and there would be lot more meetings about the work or process.

This more rapid testing leads to more rapid development.

SpaceX Gigafactories

SpaceX is planning Starship and Raptor engine gigafactories. In 2021, Elon Musk plans to scale the workforce at Boca Chica to 3,000 employees to eventually manufacture two SpaceX starships every week. There are currently 300 employees. This manufacturing rate will be comparable to the speed of construction of commercial wide-body airplanes.

Elon has said that mass production will bring the cost of the Starship down to $5 million. There will be six Raptor engines. This means the mass production of Raptor engines at less than $1 million per engine.

Larger buildings are being built in Boca Chica to shelter the construction. There will need to be a lot more buildings and a lot more heavy equipment to speed construction.

Airbus and Boeing Make 800-900 Planes In Normal Years. This is the scale and speed of production that Elon Musk wants to create for rockets.

Boeing and Airbus delivered 35 and 138 commercial jets in December 2019, compared to 102 and 127 deliveries, respectively, in the same month last year. For the full year 2019, Boeing delivered 380 aircraft, while Airbus set a new all-time annual record, handing over 863 jets. Boeing had retained a deliveries lead over Airbus since 2012.

SOURCES- SpaceX, What About It? Felix, Robert Zubrin, Boeing, Airbus, Wikipedia, Kent Nebergall at, Additional analysis and Synthesis by Brian Wang
Written by Brian Wang,

61 thoughts on “Fanatical Complete Package Leaders Needed for Civilization Altering Greatness”

  1. That just depends on what timescale you are using.

    By comparison with the rate of development before the industrial revolution, things these days change with leaps and bounds.

  2. Probably *because* they had less opportunity to get into something safer. Early in 20th century US a lot of boxers were Jewish. A bit later Jews mostly got into the middle class & went for careers that ran less risk of brain injury. If you aren’t born into poverty you generally go for a less risky career than drug dealer

  3. Yes, of course, I was talking comparatively with an O’Neill habitat, it would be peanuts compared to that. But I agree with your estimation of 10 to 20 colony years.

    Lavatubes are stable because they have been there, unaltered, for hundreds of millions of years. The sealing part is not that difficult, many proposals say to simply inflate two balloons to seal the section between them. But yes, the leaking, absorbing air and out-gassing should first be studied on a small section before trying to pressurize a large one for inhabitation.

    I brought it because, unlike the O’Neill habitats, this is something that would achieve the same results of allowing entire cities living comfortably on Earth-like conditions, it can be done within the lifetime of even the first colons, and the cost should be affordable for any serious attempt to colonize Mars.

  4. Lava tubes could save early colonists a lot of labor by simply setting up habs within them, rather than burying the habs or boring tunnels.

    But sealing them and pressurizing a lot of empty space is probably best left for after they’re well studied (stability, out-gassing into your air, absorbing or leaking your air, etc) and local manufacturing is well developed. Probably not something that’ll be done in the first 10 or 20 colony years. Relatively easy, maybe. Easy and cheap for a young colony, probably not.

  5. changing the world with a single brilliant intellectual realization

    The world never changes like that, it builds on what came before and creeps along. Even musk is a creep rather than a run.

  6. A self created trust fund. He can indeed save the world on his own dime! But I bet he gets far richer.

  7. That is a matter of having talent AND being born at least middle class & with connections. How many potential Gates or Musks are there who were born into poverty?

  8. That is the kind of jaded and cynical view I’d expect from you Luca. I am not saying that connections and being born rich are not factors, or even requirements but you must admit that many people have connections and/or are born rich yet we have few Musks/Gates/Jobs.

  9. So today they announce that 0 g (they call it “space travel”) shrinks the brain, and there is no way to go anything but O’Neill rotating habitats.

  10. Musk has had to produce cash flow, so had to get going on this one aspect, generalized (paying!) launch. He has done unexpectedly well, astonishingly well. ISRU v Mars is a question that is independent of launch costs. ISRU wins even if launch cost is free. It is Bezos’ primary focus, lunar resource development. Musk has picked the one exactly wrong thing to do, settle a planet that is far away for current tech.

  11. I support all Space activities, it is a *target rich* environment for new knowledge, can’t go wrong! But these are Musk customers, not his own project. O’Neill or Mars is an important issue! So is cheap rockets. I hope Bezos sez he can’t compete and buys all launch from Musk, as it is sooo good. Then, Bezos can go straight into lunar buck making.

  12. I promote ISRU robotics, esp for something as close as Moon. People are only as needed at start, too expensive!

  13. I would not count our Blue Origin. They are deliberate in their development but they are producing at least on paper a tremendous vehicle with the New Glenn. I am looking forward to seeing both it and Space X compete with the American flag attached to their towers.

  14. That’s not the title of the story. That’s what I addressed. So, your statement is a non sequitur. As to him being effective, plenty of arguments to counter that from opinions to facts.

  15. I have been watching the Boca Chica rocket building exercise with great interest. When it started the workers were using ladders to climb up to the rocket platforms. All the pipes and wires were outside the rocket but then I learned for all they were doing with the initial testing they were plenty good. And all the welding failures really caused a lot of talk. Then along comes the last failure which was a testing screw up but it looked to me like the welds held together as the rocket crumbled. If so that is the best test of the welds they could do. Innovation, Innovation as Musk has said that is the secret to progress. Keep it up.

  16. This is Musk to a tee. He promises ‘ventilators’, slaps Tesla stickers on BPAP machines which are used for sleep apnea. Then our hero grandstands in the media about his generosity while delivering the machines to NY. The machines he promised CA have yet to appear, but Musk never delivers anything on time. The ventilators he promised are $50,000, not the $800 Tesla stickered photo-op BPAP machines he bought for NY. California still can’t get an answer from Musk as to when he will deliver the machines. I’m a regular guy without a billion dollar subsidy-funded bank account, and no engineers work for me, but I have delivered as many real ventilators to CA as Musk. Dude is a grand standing poser who feeds off American citizens via subsidies. This is a repeat of the mini-sub cave rescue. He just wants the media attention. He wants to appear generous. From all accounts, he’s man-child bully who most people can’t stand. I have that from personal accounts of people who know him.

  17. “kill a dozen families with incomplete self-drive tech and continue to evict auto unions through Tesla; and blow-up a few crews through SPaceX; and… (not yet happened)…but:”

    This is gave me a good laugh, expecting a car company that leads the industry in safety to have zero fatalities out of the gate despite a 1.3m fatality rate per year for autos. Oh, and protectionism for auto unions. Who’s paying you to write this?

  18. Hares have been around for fifty million years, and tortoises for 200 million. We don’t know which will win the long race yet.

  19. Most common Irish name, I think. Niall of the Nine Hostages must have been a busy man. I read Gerald K’s book when it came out ( along with a lot of other science fiction ), but have since decided I like this planet much more. ‘Pie in the Sky By and By’ was sung to mock the likes of Salvation Army followers during the Depression, but it could apply as well to many space cornucopians.

  20. “Kalpana Two would only take 17 Starship launches. At $10M per launch that’s $170M plus hardware, for a starter colony in LEO that holds 1000 people.” Not a good plan. Robotic ISRU, lunar or asteroidal, is the way to start. It is a non-obvious fact that cheaper rockets make ISRU start cheaper, so ISRU always wins!

  21. Main goal of ISS is to learn about 0 g, for long trip to Mars. O’Neill -> artificial 1 g, so learn how to build that. What if 0 g no go? Spin g easy! That 40 years.

  22. By not sending rovers to the Moon for 40 years, even while doing same for Mars, which is far harder due to distance. For example. Have you read “The High Frontier”?

  23. Bezos beat me! O’Neill shows a future that causes current changes by providing hope for long term expansive future, not Small World. I have bigger fish to fry than Space, so limit to non-commercial advocacy. As long as I am dismissed, what I do remains important. When others mention O’Neill one tenth as often as Mars, I will stop.

  24. The Bible also says that the Universe was created in six days and I didn’t believe it for one second. You can’t believe everything you read.

    We can build a self-sustaining city on Earth, but we cannot build an O’Neill habitat, we don’t even have the materials with the strength to hold a fast spinning, many kilometers large, ring. This is in the future, centuries from now.

    So insisting that building an O’Neill habitat is easier than building a self-sustaining city on Earth (or Mars for that matter) will leave you as a nutjob. Do yourself a favor and lessen your enthusiasm for O’Neill habitats, you know perfectly well that they are not happening this century (we still don’t have the necessary technology, and we better not start about the costs when it first become feasible, it will take centuries of improving and driving costs down of manufacturing in space before O’Neill habitats also become economically viable … if ever).

  25. “There’s plenty of room for all on it(Earth) and however badly we abuse it, it will still be more hospitable than rocks and vacuum”.
    A nice contrast to the Small World disaster outlook! Many will disagree, I think you will find. O’Neill is important because bigger than Earth, thus being what tiny Mars can never be. Solution to Earth problem.

  26. Lucky for you, SpaceX will sell commercial launch on Starship to anyone who wants them. If somebody wants to build O’Neill colonies, they can go ahead and do that.

    Kalpana Two would only take 17 Starship launches. At $10M per launch that’s $170M plus hardware, for a starter colony in LEO that holds 1000 people. So start a company and drum up some financing!

  27. “Musk is going to beat Bezos to the Moon, too.”
    He has no plans for Moon at all, just some customers with their own plans. Mars Direct/First/Only is the plan, remember? The Moon is a waste of time, remember? Lunar ISRU is too hard, remember? Must live on planet, remember?

  28. Bezos is only far ahead of Musk in the scale of his Moon plans, not the execution. At the current rate of progress, Musk is going to beat Bezos to the Moon, too. I’d go so far as to say that the most economical option for Bezos to have his lunar fuel plant delivered to the Moon is probably going to be to hire Musk to put it there.

    Doing second best beats planning best every time.

  29. Watch the video, part one, and see that he cannot see any alternative to planets. A common mistake, going back thru history. Understandable, but wrong!

  30. “All the ISRU plans in the world are going to mean absolutely nothing if we can’t get there cheaply enough.” Actually, All the rockets in the world are going to mean absolutely nothing if we can’t get ISRU. We do not have what is needed on Earth to launch, even if launch were free. ISRU is needed early to avoid launch costs, also, but that is not the real reason, as Mars and Earth are too tiny, even combined.

  31. “O’Neill far easier than Mars ?.”
    Well, obviously. O’Neill argues that O’Neill Space, eg Al Globus’ ELEO, is easier than EARTH. So easier than Mars is a given!

  32. to do O’Neill, you start with ISRU

    But to do ISRU, you start with rockets. All the ISRU plans in the world are going to mean absolutely nothing if we can’t get there cheaply enough.

  33. Elon Musk is just a phase, an important one though, like his cars, his rockets will be copied fervently and with Bezos hydrogen rocket engines they will find greater utility in fueling in space, while others are already working on more advanced concepts that are going to be delivered not in the distant future.
    I also think that the first one who will catch on building E-sails shuttles to tow space vehicles to deeper space will make just an important contribution to space vehicle making as Elon Musk.

  34. O’Neill far easier than Mars ?. You are insane.

    On Mars you just need to take a lavatube : 250 mt wide, 100 km large, seal a section, fill it with air and you already have a very large habitat capable to fit a one million inhabitants city. It would be shielded from radiation, drastic temperature changes, micrometeorites, …. A couple of nuclear reactors (for redundancy sake) to provide warmth and illumination, and all the resources of an entire planet at your disposal (water, metals, raw materials …), you could have not only crops, but also woods, artifficial lakes, … And always at a 5 minutes trip on an elevator to explore the surface if you wish so.

    Easy and cheap, now try and do the same with science-fiction space habitats.

  35. However good an O’Neill habitat is, it will always be orders of magnitude less spacious, less safe, and less nourishing to the human spirit than this wonderful planet that we evolved to fit. There’s plenty of room for all on it, and however badly we abuse it, it will still be more hospitable than rocks and vacuum.

  36. What obsession do you have with O’Neill habitats ?. Do yourself a favor and stop reading science fiction, because that’s what O’Neill habitats are a this moment, and will be for many decades, if not centuries.

  37. Picture of Musk? We need fewer corporate welfare babies, and he’s an avowed socialist; don’t need more of them. His wealth also makes him a hypocrite if he’s a socialist. Everything Musk is doing or has done is not ‘his’. Everything he get’s into, other than PayPal, involves government subsidies or he doesn’t do it. He does push people to get things done, I’ll give him that, but it reminds me of the Bill Burr’s piece on Steve Jobs. Jobs goes on stage alone and takes credit. Forget the army of engineers and others who created Apple’s stuff. Jobs just walks in and spouts a vision of something and then yells, “Get on it!!” Based on the title of the piece, Hitler would qualify. I believe in the market place of ideas. Lot’s of radicals and fanatics can hit the stage, but the market decides what it needs and wants. Not the other way around.

  38. Other than on Mars, where it is stuck in a gravity well, Musk has no ISRU plans. ISRU is far superior to more rockets, like a virus is *better* than more poison. More rockets make ISRU start easier, however. Of course, to do O’Neill, you start with ISRU, not Mars.

  39. You insist in thinking Musk doesn’t know about O’Neill.

    I don’t believe that’s the case. He simply has another goal: to create a backup planet for humanity, just in case we find a nasty surprise threatening our survival in the coming years.

    O’Neill habitats will take decades to take off even if we have cheap access to space, and I think he is thinking at his own mortality.

    Bezos is not getting any younger either.

  40. “yay silly Mars mission that that old ex-astronaut supported…” Hawking told Aldrin “colonize the Moon first”. Aldrin thought about it and changed his mind.

  41. Bezos is far ahead of Musk in Moon plans. Which are obvious first step for O’Neill plans. I’m fine using Musk rockets for this, but need help showing him that Mars is useless for helping Earth/making bucks. And Bezos has well tested 3rd stage of soon to fly FH grade rocket, New Glenn.

  42. …but it is the NASA that furthers smart science, allows tourists, funds University programs and retains countless past heroes, programs, and less headline-y programs. NASA and DARPA and Blue Origin and Planetary Resources and Virgin Galactic and Lyft and other has-beens, wanna-bes, and not-quite-rights are not the enemy or the fool or the loser – they are only the Other and the Rest of Us and the background zombies piling high so that the flavour-of-the-month can get their 15-minute plus of fame. Facebook, Google, Uber, Xerox-PARC, Amazon, etc., would never have started/ survived/ thrived in Europe or China or Dubai without silicon valley and the US hero-or-bust (or delcare bankruptcy and re-emerge) culture… but it is the spectrum of approaches that make the system not the spotlight celebrity – so, YAY ELON!!, but also yay nasa, yay tang, yay darpa, yay bloated military complex, yay segway guy, yay fuel cell people, yay partly useful moon landings, yay bloated shuttle program, yay silly CST starliner, yay silly Mars mission that that old ex-astronaut supported…

  43. The Renaissance man or mad scientist changing the world with a single brilliant intellectual realization is really, really rare nowadays.

  44. But that’s the whole point. You get 50 hares, lose 49, but that’s still one hare that’s won the race.
    The other 49 took their chances, and stuffed it up. They go bankrupt and start again. Or not. Who cares? It was their money, not mine.

  45. Forsake not- popular opinion, optics, and excessive ‘externalities’:
    It’s one thing to establish a network of high-speed internet satellites quick and cheap, an EV car business on pricing and product delivery, and a space company based on whiz-bang re-usability and costs;…
    BUT: leak precious government secrets (have a Snowden pulled) through poor security with those same satellites; kill a dozen families with incomplete self-drive tech and continue to evict auto unions through Tesla; and blow-up a few crews through SPaceX; and… (not yet happened)…but:
    golden boy Musk could become Martin Shkreli or Elizabeth Holmes or Steve Ballmer, the tech/ pharma/ future anti-heroes – megalomaniacal, ruthless, risk-hysterical, and self-vision-obsessed. It’s easy to see the private-public dichotomy as the hare vs turtle – but the real picture is 50 hares vs 1 turtle. You see the one hare pass the finish first and gloriously, but conveniently forget the other 49 quiet or not-so-quiet failures x how many investment dollars lost x how many burn-out companies discarded x how many person/ enviro/ community ‘externalities’ sacrificed. I am all for a transparent, high-risk, competition-based, techno-battle-royale — but call not Elon a hero, for he just happens to be the right one in the right place at the right time, from a system that glorifies the shallow, spotlights the shiny, and cheers the headline. I want the moonbase, orbital hotel, gas-station-free 1000-mile battery truck too…

  46. Whoever gives us cheap access to space ASAP wins.

    I don’t care who it is, but I take the availability of functioning rockets as evidence of success.

    If Bezos continues taking things easy, he will be dead before achieving anything.

  47. “This urgency is not apparent in the development of Blue Origin.”
    Bezos has understood O’Neill for almost as long as I have. Not mentioned are the Moon plans everyone now seems to have, after 40+ wasted years on Zubrin Mars BS. BO is older and far better funded than SpaceX, and has a useful plan, while Mars is what?
    Zubrin is totally the wrong person to “grade” Bezos, who never fell for Zubrin’s Horse Pucky.

  48. Yes. You need dreams bigger than Earth to pursue them and get even larger realities.

    But dreams aren’t enough, you need wealth and power. There are plenty of people with huge dreams and no way to make then real. The Renaissance man or mad scientist changing the world with a single brilliant intellectual realization is really, really rare nowadays.

    Billionaires nowadays are in an unique position to do such great changes with the power of their wealth and what it can accomplish, but most lack the imagination and drive to perform those larger than Earth endeavors. Most of them seem quite happy with just being the overlords of our little world.

    Musk is in a rare position of having the wealth, the business acumen and the big dreams.

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