Elon Musk – Observing a modern space man

So, I’m not an Elon Musk acolyte.  I don’t own a Tesla, solar energy where I live isn’t particularly viable, and I don’t have any micro satellites to launch into orbit.  I feel compelled to put down my thoughts on this guy simply because I want to look back in a few years and see how my various observations panned out.

First of all, Elon Musk is human.  He’s fallable, and probably eccentric in his own way.  I’m sure there are people who love working for him, and people who hate it.  One thing is for sure, he is one of the shapers of our future modern world.  I’ll begin at my beginning.

I never heard of Elon Musk until the whole Tesla thing started.  At first he seemed to merely be a deep pocket investor, but later became the driving force of a company that probably would have gone the Fisker rout, cool tech, but not a viable business.

Then this whole economy ‘incident’ occured, and there was quite a cloud over innovation there for a while.  Tesla survived (with some government help), and what’s this?  There’s this whole other SpaceX thing which has also been brewing.  Huh.  I’m not really up on the history of SpaceX, but it appears like something cooked up by Elon Musk directly, rather than something he just so happened to invest in.  And besides that, there’s this solar city thing that was also brewing on the side, just biding it’s time through the recession.  And wait, there’s this giant factory that’s going to produce batteries, and then there’s Hyperloop.  This last one is the one that pushed me over edge in wanting to write down my thoughts on things Musk.

So, these are a bunch of wild things, each of which is giant enough to drive someone’s lifetime ambitions, but Elon Musk is into all of them.  I’m going to tray and channel him for a moment.

Elon Musk is a grown up who as a child had visions of going to Mars and setting up a colony.  He’s smart enough to have realized that going to Mars to live isn’t merely a matter of getting there, which we can probably already do.  If you really want to live there, you have to consider several things.  With any city, there’s certainly the softer sides of governance, and societal management.  Then there’s the more worrisome stuff like transportation, energy, food, shelter, water, etc.  Of you consider these latter pieces, you can begin to see the skeleton of a Mars colony in everything that he’s doing today.

SpaceX is about rocketry.  So yah, you have to work on that.  If you want to transfer people in colony sized amounts, it has to be cheap enough to achieve.  Up until SpaceX, the costs in rocketry were a bit high, largely driven by government sized entities.  SpaceX is still largely government sponsored, but they are bringing costs down through various innovations.  Of course China and India are doing much to reduce costs of space travel as well, but this is where the Boy Musk gets his excitement.

Then there’s Tesla.  It’s marginally about transportation, but it’s hugely about batteries and energy systems.  If you’re on Mars, you’re not likely to be burning fossil fuels (can’t find there, and can’t transport).  Solar energy is going to be your best bet.  Thus, Solar City makes a heck of a lot of sense.  You’ll need to develop solar panels and techniques of all sorts.  I wouldn’t be surprised if wind and some sort of thermic thing doesn’t work its way into the mix over time.  Then there’s the mega battery factory.  Oh yah sure, you can consume all those batteries in cars if you like, but really you’re creating battery systems to power houses, modules, factories, whatever.  Now, batteries aren’t the best storage for all things.  Compressed gas, or even liquids being pumped up hill might be good storage, but as far as mobile, and fairly isolated uses are concerned, traditional batteries are a good place to start.  And now, they’ve recently announced battery packs for houses, mated with solar panels of their own design, and Solar City merges with Tesla.  That’s the whole energy side of things.  I’d expect this ‘car’ company to come out with more dramatic things on the energy front.

Isn’t the car company about transportation?  Yes, marginally I think.  Hyperloop is more about transportation when it comes to Mars.  And this one really was the “aha” moment for me.  The various comments I’ve read about the feasibility of the systems really harp on things like ‘too hard to pull a vacuum to be practical’.  When you think of it from the perspective of Mars though, do the same things apply?  First of all, purchasing right of way.  I don’t know about the land grant rules related to Mars, but I’ve got to imagine that through the UN you can get a fairly large portion of Mars all to yourself.  Lay out track in tubes, either above ground, or under, and you at least don’t have right of way problems.  Creating a good enough vacuum on Mars is probably not as hard as doing it on earth, and with less gravity, moving trains requires that much less energy as well.  Given the usage of mobile battery packs (solar charged) even the energy requirements are fairly minimal.  The whole thing is solar powered.

So, for some runs, the Mars transportation system can rely on Hyperloop style conveyance.  Perhaps it’s only used to ship the various mining materials from the fields to the processing plants?  The humans can drive around in slower golf carts on short runs.

That’s the crux of how I see things unfolding for the Musketeers.  Think of everything in the context of a Mars colony.  That will drive habitation, transportation, energization, and all sorts of other ations.  In the coming years, I would expect One Musk entity or another to get more into food growth, construction, and even create an amusement part somewhere inhospitable, like the ocean floor, or the middle of the desert, in order to explore and develop concepts related to life on Mars.

That’s my view on this modern day rocket man.  At the very least, he’s inspiring a generation of thinkers and tinkers to go after this modern day moon shot.  No doubt a lot will come of it, if we don’t drown or explore ourselves first.

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2 Comments on “Elon Musk – Observing a modern space man”

  1. Olivier Garbe says:

    Brilliant post William, I am a fan of Elon Musk, and you got me on the Hyperloop and vacuum. Also, solar energy and batteries in space colonies, of course!
    He has BIG vision, the intelligence to start from a blank slate not to be bogged down by acquired knowledge of what cannot be done, and the drive to execute (either the things that have to be done, or the people that don’t…). This is what it takes to achieve in a lifetime what society can do in 5 or 10.
    I wonder about Pharaohs sometime, they had the resources to do tons of stuff, and they surrounded themselves with pretty smart people. On the other hand, they were born gods, Elon just has to prove he is one…
    As usual, William, I thoroughly enjoy your posts. I haven’t been communicating lately, but I wonder what the state of all your projects is, because, like Elon Musk, there is a common thread in all this… 3D Printing language, tiny secure servers, a universal CNC, … What did you want to do when YOU were a kid??
    Cheers, and how is the little one?
    Olivier

  2. When I was a kid, about 5 years old as far as I can tell, I wanted to own a vertically integrated
    ‘electronics’ company. that has morphed over the years. As an adult, I want to do micro manufacturing, getting as close to customized goods at the corner store (or home) as possible. Lots of programming, modeling, robotics, and the like. That’s where all my wandering is headed. CAD tools, programming environments, hardware, sales model, space, etc.

    The kid is great, and now there’s another one as well, so two of them running around the house.


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