There’s also an awful lot of money involved.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts. Which Musk hopes to wrangle for his Space Pinto – er, SpaceX rocket. It’s the ballistic version of his Tesla electric car.
Both seem to have issues with catching on fire.
And burning through cash.
Houston, we have a problem.
Maybe that’s why SpaceX is shopping conspiracy theories that “someone” (hinted-at rival for government payload payola United Launch Alliance) deliberately monkey-wrenched the rocket – like Gary Seven, from the original Star Trek series, Assignment Earth. Or maybe sniped at it with a rifle from the roof of a building more than a mile away, Texas School Book Depository-style.
Elon’s minions – and Elon himself – have actually suggested the latter.
According to The Washington Post, a SpaceX employee visited the ULA building shortly after the rocket blew up and asked for access to the roof. You know, to look for the sniper’s nest.
From the article: “SpaceX (says it) had still images from video that appeared to show an ‘odd shadow’, then a ‘white spot’ on the roof” of the ULA facility, which has “a clear line of sight” to the launch pad where the Falcon9 rocket grenaded.
Mel Gibson, your phone’s ringing…
“Particularly trying to understand the quieter bang sound a few seconds before the fireball goes off,” Musk himself Tweeted. “May come from rocket or (cue ominous sound effects) something else.”
But not even Lee Harvey Oswald – and whomever was behind the Grassy Knoll – could make that shot.
Besides which, why would they?
Musk – like the Warren Commission – appears to want a diversion. A politically acceptable explanation for the debacle.
Back in ’63, the Commission’s job was to sweep the serial incompetence of various government agencies, especially the FBI and Secret Service, under the rug and focus all the blame for the president’s murder on the “lone nut” who came out of nowhere. In the case of SpaceX – which is investigating itself – the object seems to be to not look into potential problems with the engineering of the Falcon9 rocket, procedures or personnel involved with the botched launch.
Particularly odd is this business of self-investigation, an oddity given that while SpaceX is nominally a “private” company, it is subsidized by taxpayer dollars and effectively operates as a kind of quasi-NASA. Where is the oversight? Haven’t taxpayers got a right to know how their cash is being burned up?
SpaceX concluded its secretive self-investigation in less than one month.
A NASA investigation of a launch failure typically takes at least six months, often longer. And NASA is a government agency, subject to all the normal disclosure laws that provide at least some degree of accountability.
SpaceX quickly “ruled out all the obvious possibilities” … except, apparently, the Lone Gunman Theory.
Which, if true, would absolve SpaceX of responsibility for the loss of the rocket. And, perhaps, financial responsibility for the financial losses – not just of the Falcon9 and its payload, either.
Future payload payola is on the line.
But what’s more likely? That there was a mechanical/engineering/procedural problem of some kind that SpaceX is shying away from acknowledging or just doesn’t want to know about? Or a that Gary Seven (or Lee Harvey Oswald) was on the roof of the ULA building a mile away and took down the Falcon9 with a well-placed rifle shot?
All of this would be entertaining – in a Mel Gibson-ish way – if it weren’t our money that’s paying for the show.
SpaceX is one of those weird for-profit/sort-of government operations. It doesn’t earn money through voluntary free exchange between a willing seller and a willing buyer. It uses the coercive power of the government to take people’s money; to force them to “buy” things they’d rather not – like a Falcon9 rocket (or a $60,000 Tesla electric car for some rich West Coast celebrity to drive around in).
NASA, of course, also takes people’s money and spends it on things many people would (if they had the choice) rather not spend it on. But in defense of NASA, at least there’s no billionaire middleman (Musk) making money off the transaction.
The Apollo Program was not a for-profit operation. It was a straight-up government operation with the goal of getting men to the Moon and back. Not to make men rich. And taxpayers had the consolation of the magnificent Saturn V rockets – which never blew up on the pad.
To be fair to Musk, he did did put a sizeable amount of his own money – reportedly $100 million – to launch SpaceX (the company, not the rockets) back in 2001. Good so far. But SpaceX depends almost entirely on government contracts (about $500 million as of 2012) to actually launch its Falcon re-usable rockets.
Another contract – worth a reported $440 million – was awarded recently for development of the “next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities.”
And, of course, Musk has Great Plans – all his plans are Great Plans – to send humans to Mars.
And, naturally, to make a buck off each trip.
Which isn’t the issue here. The making of bucks.
The issue is making bucks off the backs of other people, using the state as your muscle.
Musk considers this “privatization” – and himself a real-life Tony Stark.
But privatization is a term that properly applies to private transactions, which are voluntary transactions. If government is involved then coercion is involved and private citizens aren’t given the option to decline to buy in.
That’s not heroic.
Congressional Republicans especially – who constantly pay lip service to the free market and deride “wasteful” government – ought to take a harder look at all of Musk’s operations – from SpaceX to Tesla. And quit making excuses – and better yet, stop opening taxpayers’ wallets up – to a guy who sees himself as Iron Man but whose operations always seem to have trouble getting off the ground.
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