SpaceX Always Operates With Extreme Urgency

Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, had the third part of his interview with Elon Musk.

What comes through is the intense focus Elon Musk and his teams have.

They are focused and operating with extreme urgency to make humanity a multi-planetary species.

Elon needs to get to Mars, colonize Mars and then make Mars self-sustaining.

He knows that things can go backwards. Humanity went to the moon in 1969. The Apollo program had five more successful missions and then the program was stopped.

The Space Shuttle was developed and could only achieve low earth orbit. For one decade, the US had no rockets capable of manned flight.

48 thoughts on “SpaceX Always Operates With Extreme Urgency”

  1. My understanding is that SpaceX has staked its corporate survival on Starship succeeding, that they can't meet the schedule for Starlink rollout that they committed to without it.

  2. Rather, it's a matter of scale. When you're doing things small scale, it just isn't worth it to introduce the complexity necessary to wring out more efficiency. As scale increases, it makes sense to invest in the savings, because the savings themselves are bigger, too.

    You want to distill a 100 gallons of water, you boil it. You want to distill 10,000 gallons, you boil it and use counter-flow heat exchangers to reclaim the heat. You want to distill a million gallons, you set up for reverse osmosis, because the savings are worth the trouble.

    Mars should actually be able to produce microchips fairly early on. They won't produce them the same way they are on Earth, because we way we produce them currently is only economical for large production runs. On Mars they'll use direct write, because you can make chips with a small amount of equipment, just not efficiently or fast. But that's a process that's well suited when you just need a handful of chips, but need them tomorrow, not next year.

  3. Refilling a lander's LOX tank with LOX from Earth takes much more time, energy, and LOX than refilling a lander's LOX tank with LUNOX.

    Sure, once you have the infrastructure in place to extract and liquefy that oxygen. So, the question becomes, how much time, energy, and LOX have to be expended to design, manufacture, and transport that infrastructure to the Moon?

    What's the breakeven point? I'll concede that there obviously is one, but what is it? How much traffic do you need leaving the Moon before that lunar O2 plant becomes cheaper than importing LOX from Earth? Has anybody calculated that?

  4. That bio-stuff strikes me as idiotic sucking up to the Greens. Mars doesn't have the ecosystem to be using mushrooms to manufacture things!

    We're going to need Sabatier reactors up the wazoo for manufacturing methane fuel and oxygen. You can divert some of the output of that into further reactors, to produce UHMW polyethylene, which once oriented is "Spectra", very high performance polymer. This can be used to make balloons and sandbags, and even bricks where most of the mass is screened dirt. So that 95% or better of the mass of the habitats can be ISRU right from the start, just need some lighting and internal fittings.

    Later, when more power is available, electrochemical processes can be used to reduce oxidized metals to a more usable form. (No oxidizing atmosphere to make conventional foundries practical.)

  5. Excellent! Took me a while to figure this out. Now that I see the catastrophic assumption, I will be able to spot it in the future. Consider the early 80s O'Neill related plan to Viking-like scoop rego into a processor and attempt to solar furnace extract O2, leaving glass and metal slag separated in piles. This is clearly harder than obtaining O2 on Earth. Same for anything sitting around, floating around or lying around on Earth. As launch costs go to 0, just launch the stuff, job done. Job done because all we need is fuel for Mars rockets, perhaps some water too. Musk!

    Because we are doing O'Neill, the catastrophic Musk/Mars/planet chauvinism assumption sets us off in the wrong direction. The glass and slag are the valuables. The O2 is a waste product, always will be plenty. Other vols easy too, along with the other valuable stuff. Valuable stuff that does not just sit around waiting on Earth. Energy, tech civs, etc. "Is the surface of a planet . . .?"

  6. An off-Earth economy, including trade, is essential to maintaining and expanding a human presence in space.

    But I think you may be underestimating the difficulty of bootstrapping it without Mars (or maybe Luna). Gravity may be a pit trap but it is also extremely useful industrially, as is an atmosphere and water ice and other in situ resources that may be missing from any particular asteroid or small moon and certainly from empty space.

    Once we have at least two zones of economic activity, any comparative advantage should allow trade. That trade in turn may create opportunities for locations between those two points, such as Phobos and the asteroids.

    E.g. it may make sense to produce methane on Mars and ship it to Earth orbit and Lunar orbit to fuel Starships there. (Luna could export oxygen and eventually hydrogen so Mars need only ship carbon to orbital fuel plants.)

    But once that trade is established, the cost of initiating mining of Phobos to produce oxygen and methane – launching the hydrogen from Mars [or eventually Luna] if Phobos is dry – could become worth paying to avoid or reduce the launch costs of Mars. But the few people at Phobos will need to import food and equipment from Mars and Earth and maybe even Luna.

    And then, at last, we can get Space Pirates!

  7. I dunno. I think you can get a lovely surface/sub society after parking 100 cargo-fitted starships in orbit around mars in a 10-year span (2027 – 2037) and a self-fabricating first basecamp below, awaiting the first community of Elon and 50+ over the next 10 years following – some in orbit, most in an 'ideal' encampment, a few roving for supplies. I think you underestimate the huge pile of extra-terra, human extremophiles that would flourish in such a life-long adventure…

  8. "What part of the lunar processing stuff is different from similar Earth stuff for the same product(s)?"

    The energy required to get the LOX to a lander on the moon. Refilling a lander's LOX tank with LOX from Earth takes much more time, energy, and LOX than refilling a lander's LOX tank with LUNOX.

  9. "the f#ck they agreed to go to this godforsaken place."

    Spoken like someone who has never visited the city of Killadelphia.

  10. "the f#ck they agreed to go to this godforsaken place."

    I would take Underground Martian cities over fecal encrusted Bay area cities every day of the week.

  11. "the f#ck they agreed to go to this godforsaken place."

    Works for Nordic countries. Personally I would take Finnish snow over Scottish wind and rain.

  12. Can't be about survival or minimum self-sufficiency. Has to be about culture and civilization and meaningful productivity within a single generation.
    I wouldn't even consider the entire collection of Antarctic research encampments (all countries) as being 'a worthwhile' culture, though at a high degree of survivability and moderate level of sustainability. Am i saying just ship the Casino right into Mars orbit?
    Yes. Yes, i am. When we are talking about setting up an alternate human location, we need to stop the macho-minimalist nonsense. If Brian says we are going to build and launch a starship many times a week – send a percentage of them to Mars orbit as the civilization 'depot', even during and between optimum windows.

  13. Elon seems like half-dead from fatigue. He should take care as well to be able to see the end of the road he's pursuing in person.

  14. Probably an ankle RSI from walking around the site all day. He could've even tripped over one of the million pieces of random steel chunks lying around.

  15. I disagree with the beginning of your post but I agree with the last paragraph. For example, Mars won't be able to produce microchips for a very long time. But does that make self-sufficiency impossible? No, because you can pretty easily make machines that do the same things if you don't care about efficiency.

    Mars is a barren, irradiated wasteland, one thing they're guaranteed to have in abundance is nuclear fission energy. This opens up tons of super simple industrial processes that we don't do on Earth because they're too energy intensive. But counter-intuitively, the Martian power-per-capita will be extremely huge, orders of magnitude more than on Earth.

    Another example: on Earth, desalination is hard because obviously you can't just vaporize all the salt water. You need fancy reverse osmosis devices. But on Mars, where each person has megawatts at their disposal? Nah, go ahead and vaporize it.

  16. Nietzsche is Peache, and he proposed that the *Chorus* was the audience, having emotional reactions to the events of the play. All sorts of experiential things will pop up when things are stirred. Theosophy?

  17. Well, the question is about establishing self sustaining presence, of an already advanced tech group. Advanced enuf to look at going to Mars, or interstellar, or asteroids, not just starting to have fire. Clearly, set up mostly in Space. Esp the ISMRU which would really be absurd to set up in a gravity prison if you were not already there. Is this not obvious somehow? Leave that new Earth pristine. Don't farm or mine it, or cover it with industrial wasteland. Primarily, preserve the plants, for chemistry, and the animals, for cuteness. Replicate it and the old Earth that you have along with you, thru out the new Solar System. Live long and prosper.

  18. The exact nature of the ceremonies of Classical Greek and Roman mystery religions are still unknown. Don't give up on them yet.

  19. a bunch of people huddled together in the most hostile environment you can imagine, wondering why the f#ck they agreed to go to this godforsaken place.

    Worked for Canada. And Russia I suppose (for small values of "worked".)

  20. No, I don't think that's true.
    If we were able to reach another solar system, and it looked just like this one. With a couple of overheated inner planets, the third with heaps of liquid water and breathable atmosphere with a (often) non-toxic biosphere, and then a mixture of frozen sub-earths and gas giants, we would ABSOLUTELY land on that third planet first.

  21. Yeah, I'm not aware of a limp being a sign of a general health issue. In my experience it's usually a local injury.

    Well that's not true, there is gout and arthritis etc. But they don't tend to be overwork issues.

  22. Large spaces can be built underground, so no need for huddling. Same reasoning would apply to building reusable rockets. Mining asteroids won't save humanity from an earth-based extinction event.

  23. You can't see it as clearly in the final walk back to the car in Part 3 at the end, but he's seems to be favoring/spending longer on his left leg it seems. It's a little easier to see when he was walking the tents in Part 1 and Part 2. I suppose some people would say that isn't a limp per se, but I thought it was.

    But a sprained ankle would also explain it…

  24. It is not only not the quickest, it is the wrong place completely. First principle in construction: Know where! "Is the surface of a planet", such as Mars, the right place for a self-sustaining presence off Earth? It may be possible to do so, but is not the right, certainly not the first, place to do so. Earth would not be right if we were not already here!

  25. What part of the lunar processing stuff is different from similar Earth stuff for the same product(s)? Or, if you are bringing raw rego to lunar orbit with the cheap rockets or mass driver, the orbital ISMRU stuff? I'm getting far easier for ISMRU than Earth, and no launch cost. Remember, ISMRU is the goal, not Mars. The cheap launch makes it easier to start!

  26. You can *survive* with a lot less than you *need*, so keeping the economic contact will help with the being ready for disaster. Part of big is better than all of small.

  27. Warrior females, river, then forest. Musk can tow whatever he was going to do on Mars to further than Mars after assembling it here in cislunar, with NEO, lunar or Earth materials. Then he is NOT stuck on a gravity prison floor awaiting disaster the way we are here.

  28. "combination of very lucky environmental factors and serendipitous discoveries and social developments have made possible this weird state of affairs we live on" I find it an amazing coincidink that Primal Science, which the ancient Greeks could easily have found, see their plays!, and O'Neill/Galileo, needing modern tech incl spaceflight, were discovered at practically the same instant. Almost as if the payoff for insanity, Space, had to happen before the insanity could be understood.

  29. Mars also will be very economically dependent on Earth for a long time.

    The myriad of industrial processes and products an industrial civilization depends on will ensure there will be some missing items and materials that need to be brought from Earth for a while.

    But it will also be painfully easier for the Martians to see which ones need to be produced locally, and get to it, closing the gaps eventually. After all, anything you need to wait several months for is pretty noticeable.

    I expect they will do a lot of of corner cutting, removing some superfluous things we take for granted on Earth, to reduce industrial autonomy to its bare basics elements of living, building and growing.

  30. What we need to truly expand humanity beyond earth is an off-earth economy. I never hear Elon talk about that. What is the economic case to go to Mars? You might say "It's not all about economics!", but you would be wrong. Without it, the best Elon can hope for is a bunch of people huddled together in the most hostile environment you can imagine, wondering why the f#ck they agreed to go to this godforsaken place.

    Why drop into another gravity well after expending all that energy to get out of earths? If I were Elon, I would concentrate on mining asteroids for valuable resources, and trying to kick start some sort of space economy, before spending my last dime to bankroll a hundred people freezing to death on Mars.

  31. You can get the oxidizer from the moon with relative ease.

    Hydrogen from the moon is difficult as it requires polar landings, added processing, added equipment, maintaining cryogenic H2, etc.

    In situ fuel only makes sense if getting fuel from Earth is more expensive than In situ fuel. Put another way your thinking is based on old calculations that assume launch costs are prohibitive. Launch costs may soon be relatively cheap and your calculations may need reassessment.

  32. The thing about developing the Moon (or setting up O'Neill Cylinders in Earth-Moon Lagrange points) is that it doesn't solve the problem Musk is trying to solve. The Moon (and its Lagrange points) are too close to Earth to be reasonably independent of it, such that if a meteor strikes and wipes out Human life on Earth, these enclaves would probably wither and die along with it.

    Now, a colony on Mars (or an O'Neill Cylinder in Martian orbit) would be far enough and hard enough to get to that the people there would be actually forced to become self-sufficient. So if a relativistic planetoid struck Earth coming from the Galatic Centre, human civilization would be able to limp on 250 light-seconds away.

    Of course, setting up Lunar colonies and orbital stations in cislunar and perilunar space is also a good idea, and an obviously good idea at that. This means that people should do it, but Musk should be allowed to pursue the nonobvious good idea instead, instead of being castigated for not doing what someone else like a guy who named a book shop after a forest could do, instead.

  33. Space launcher and travel technology is one of the many frail flowers of civilization, which now bloom and are only possible in a developed enough society, the weird ones that grow some percent by year and persist challenging the usual cycles of collapse of human cultures, taking us back to our natural state.

    And that natural state of any life is hunger, squalor, sickness and death, in a continuous struggle to barely survive and leave some descendants behind.

    A combination of very lucky environmental factors and serendipitous discoveries and social developments have made possible this weird state of affairs we live on, now barely distracted by an annoying virus, among the many that we have faced before (another gift of mother nature).

    Elon Musk knows he's just a lucky guy, with the right resources, skills and ability to bring another one of these miraculous developments that may allow us to fight against our return to nature. But he knows time runs short for him as a flesh and blood human, and probably for the lucky streak we have had so far as well.

  34. I understand the haste. Our planet/civilization/species) probably only has a limited amount of time before we must move resource extraction, and at least some manufacturing, off of the planet if we are to persist and, hopefully, become better than we are.

    Some years back, the American Society of Civil Engineers laid out a multi-billion dollar plan for doing that, estimating we might then be able to support an industrial base somewhere around ten thousand times the size of what we have now.

    As far as species survival goes, I suspect that, although it is possible there is other life in our galaxy approaching, or even exceeding, our own capabilities, that this is astronomically unlikely, past, present, or future. I also suspect that, once intelligence can spread beyond its own star system, it will persist at least until the stars go cold.

    But I think another important element of ensuring species survival for the long haul, even through catastrophic events, will be DIY manufacturing and resource gathering. When even a small enclave (perhaps even a single individual) has the automation (be it nanotech or whatever) and the data to create almost anything, it will be very, very hard for anything to kill us off completely. At the very least, it would probably take an impact with the Earth sufficient to turn the surface back to being molten. And, of course, the further afield humans (or whatever we become) have spread, the less vulnerable we will be to complete extinction.

  35. I think that Elon is mistaken about the quickest path to a self-sustaining presence off Earth. It should be reasoned from first principles and not analogous reasoning from cities / civilizations on Earth.

    What precisely is needed to be self-sufficient? In order it is pressure, oxygen, temperature, water, food, metallurgy, ability to make equipment, etc. Can the making of oxygen only be achieved by a "civilization" or could it be achieved by a few people?

    We know the location on the Moon for every resource (in sufficient concentration) needed for human survival:


  36. Bio materials require organics which are not especially plentiful in the polar ice. So the organics would have to be shipped with those costs. Rather, we should develop systems to extract and use the unoxidized metals in the highlands regolith.

  37. Mars consideration has already led to CH4 for second stage rather than the usu H, and now *seems* to be leading to a Moon Direct plan that will be practice for Mars Direct. Direct in the Zubrin sense of leaving no useful devlopement for the next trip during the effort. No fuel from Moon. Just launch it, over and over. Or, will Musk get fuel from the Moon???????

    O'Neill would say that the FIRST thing to do is get fuel from Moon. It is what we will be doing for everything. In Space. Bezos first lander will have one rover devoted to trying to refuel it. The first lander.

  38. Yes, I've had back pain from standing around all day, but I usually don't limp quite like that from back pain though.

  39. Being first is one thing, but being the vanguard of a technological wave is another. Hopefully, there are enough complementary companies, individuals, and infrastructure that there will actually be neighbors and communities — not lonely outposts and forgotten landing sites…

  40. It wouldn't be the first time the dreamer doesn't live to see the dream becoming real.

    That doesn't make the efforts less worthy.

    But I surely wish he (and most people currently alive) does live to see it.

  41. Elon seems to be unhealthy at the moment. That dad-like walking limp should be worrying some people. Is running two major companies like a startup founder going to kill him before he gets to Mars?

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