« Commentary Magazine Podcast

Musk's Rockets' Red Glare

2020-12-10 | 🔗
Tech COMMENTARY columnist James B. Meigs joins us today to discuss his piece, "We're Living in a New Space Age"—and the launch of the massive rocket yesterday by Elon Musk's SpaceX that was both a triumph and a disaster. Give a listen.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Welcome to the Commentary Magazine Daily Podcast today's Thursday December ten, twenty twenty, I'm John Podhoretz, the editor commentary magazine with me, as always senior writer Christie, Rosen High HI, Christine John If you a green waldheim, a jump, and associate editor nor Rossman high Noah and with us today Commentary, tech columnist or attack commentary columnist, commentaries, tech commentary, colonists James, be mags high Jem. How are you doing great great to be here so? Are we at all
but you're coming on last week. Little did I realize that, following on the article you have in the December two thousand and twenty issue of commentary we're living in a new space age. Would we have you on just a twelve hours or sixteen hours or something after Elon, Musk Spacex tested a giant rockets, the purpose of which I believe is too preliminary start. The preliminary process for taking a trip to Mars that right. That's right. They call it a starship and it's a much larger rocket. Then the falcon that they ve been fly into the been using the large the dragon capsules that they send to the international space station, and this will be
Ultimately, you know something more like that when it's all complete the scale of the Saturn five Rockets of the APOLLO era- decade large much huge payloads right now, they're only testing. What would be the upper section, the upper stage, the rocket set it down a series of tests is, I think, with her Eight task- and it was a spectacular access success until the last couple of seconds, but you know what they do. Is they it's called a hop test applies up and then kind of disability. Floats down through the atmosphere than when it's a couple thousand feet off the ground. The rockets turned back on it, reorient its it reorient itself vertically and comes in for a slow, beautiful landing, but parts always been hard. They ve been practising this with other craft and it's taken a while to perfected. So this one became in too fast and it went up in a spectacular fireball, but
the space access seemed a bit like ok. Well, we got the data we wanted. That was a pretty good tasked too bad. We lost another rocket, but that's the way things go into space I mean so. Basically, these rockets are designed to be reusable. That's one of the extraordinary things about them, since, if you remember the the space, aids that we were talking about. Of course, they built these gigantic Saturn Rockets and a few if they ever reopen anything. If you Kennedy Space Center in in Florida, Europe going to Disney World or something it's basically in an hour drive from Disney world. You go to the king space center, and you can actually see too. There are two remaining rockets from the APOLLO Saturn days because they didn't do APOLLO, eighteen or APOLLO seventeen or something
that and they build the rockets on the Rockets are their unused any. You can't believe the scale of these things I mean they are one rocket. Is that literally almost the length of a football field and you can walk under it or walk beside there's one hanging in the air there's one like down at I level and just the the the magnet the you could see what an unbelievable accomplishment this was from this is that the guard Gansu in nature of this thing and the idea that you can build one and then have it even theoretically, if not practically as yet come back and just like land like a like a plane and then get loaded up with fuel again and used again.
is, is you know, is like one of those shakespearian. You know what a piece of work as a man. How noble and reason that we can even begin to think of doing is really it's incredible edge. They ve been doing this for a while. Now, what their Falcon nine rocket landing the lowest age on a bar job in the ocean about a couple of barges, a use for this and for years he would see them come in, they would try to land and then they would they would skitter offer blow up. They didn't have much fuel left in them, but you know it. David
them a long time ago that perfected now there, namely the landing just just about every time and then take any things: cleaning them up refuel in them and using them again and that part of the reason Spacex has been able to bring down the cost of watching cargo so dramatically. So you must have space so that this article, by the way, we're living in a new space age. We should we should discuss in detail because you are positing and- and I think we have the more reason with operation warp, speed tests are taught by your positing that, after the totally top down nature of the APOLLO mercury and APOLLO programmes and the idea that basically, the political leadership,
states, and we are going to do this. We know by John Kennedy said we will send a man to the moon and then bring him back home safely within the decade. And Heaven and earth was moved to make this happen. But it was entirely atop an experience that we are now finally transitioning into something that is a much more practical and long term strategy, which is not expecting all these things to be done by Washington and NASA and Houston and all this, but but but as some version of what you call a public private partnership, which is where operation warps me comes, and obviously that the government set as observe as a contract giver set the Multiple drug companies to work with the idea that both competition, speed and money could create, could put them
the position of creating the vaccine that could get us out of this pandemic. right and what the government did on warp speed, which is really smart. Is it crime, the pomp with a lot of initial funding, but in particular it promised to buy the drug yeah? That's the big risk of your developing. I any kind of pharmaceutical will there actually be a market for it if you can get it through testing so by promising they would they promised Pfizer, they would buy a hundred. A hundred million doses now looks like we might be trying to buy more, but he gave those companies the the safety they needed to are not only rush these drugs troop reduction. I meet you through testing, but also get ready to produce all these doses without even knowing if they were going to pass without knowing for sure if they were going to pass. You know where they were going to be approved.
strangely risky and a government help reduce that rests in the end, the companies will make their profits, which they should. I think it's a pretty good system. What what NASA did in space fly is really revolutionary since the early days of space, the government would hire a contractor Lockheed Martin Nerve, whoever or accommodation contractors to build whatever rocket NASA wanted to NASA specifications. Nasa would design it only fly at it. He with help from the contractors, but it was the government's rocket and
government also would cover any cost overrides. So as they did all of these things, it was constantly tweak any changing what they wanted. So I was caught like building housing causing redesigning. Did you go the as a result, the passive everything now tat? It was just getting more and more expensive, was taken longer and longer to get anything build that they could actually fly and then and the in about two thousand and six NASA said what. If we offer contract to a private space company to use one of their rockets to fly the cargo, we need to get cargo up to the international space station. It was as it was like a pebble in upon it wasn't a very big programme, but space acts as one of the companies had jumped at it and took up some years, but eventually they were able to proved announced that they could deliver cargo safely. To
the two, the international space station and by twenty twelve. They started doing this and since then they ve been doing it routinely me. I saw em, we talk a lot about space acts are not the only in this field, you have basis blue origins and richer grandsons virgin galactic, north and groans orbital unrolling competition, which is great but, as you said, the object Here is mostly to resupply the I S and must talks about Mars and that's a great you now that would be a fantastic achievement. The spectacular human achievement by the value of the moors in the long term is really just prestige. For now but I M excited about and what we do into a self. Sustaining model is the private enterprise in space and that's not That's not an unproven thing on speck. They have there been interest in rail from private industry
individuals who wanted in bad tested orbital hubs where you, you know you can stay there for a while and then commercial venture is where you can using on almost no gravity and back in conditions, said to develop products and develop drugs and develop micro trips and maybe transit trade transit across the globe and an hour from New York to to Sydney for twenty thousand dollars ass, a sort of thing that people are talking about and how far away is that? Because that's when we start to get a self sustaining private space industry, what we actually have a self sustaining private space industry now not for factories in space in that kind of thing. But for satellites you know we ve had, we ve got our privately owned GPS satellite, I'm probably on communication satellites we ve got. Ah you know all kinds of remote sensing privately owned when this is not for long term. So there's been a private space industry and their been some companies that watch those.
like the the world's basics, is in competition with a major european consortium and a group of our but he's called United Watch alliance. So there's a thriving business in launching cargo for the Department of Defense for four up for NASA and four and for private clients that is a profitable. So this is how Spacex has been making its money only a small fraction, its total flight, Gordon the National space Station, but you're right this there's this idea that once wouldn't get the costs down low enough different private businesses can figure out what they I do in space. There is maybe things you can do, leaving earth orbit to go and get some asteroid. It's full of platinum, amorous, various pressures
metals and bring that back in mine, an asteroid. There's a number of companies literally looking into that right now. So there are a lot of possibilities they used to say, really far off. Now they don't seem so far off where we ve got a whole. But companies pretty close on space access heels. As you said, blue origin, the Jap Baisers Company deepen building engines doing tat their very close to becoming a major player that will be hearing about as much as we care about space acts, so it I think it's exciting and I think that part of what's making this work is that is that its competition is private enterprise and how cool is it that all these billionaires want to spend their money? Billy right? gets, and I think that I need. I have a question about,
actually it is its fascinating to me, but I wonder the one thing that does seem to be missing in this has been on my mind. Since I've been reading all the obituaries of Chuckie Agar, those famous test pilot, the right stuff guy. You know the sort of human being who we kind of don't appear to create an improper that Eu Law must gets. A lot of attention bases gets a lot of attention. They. They do have a kind of Controversial slash, you know, swashbuckling aura about them when they talk about their space projects, but I wonder what we have lost or if we ve lost. In your opinion, any other kind of into the inspiring General astronaut figure. If you well, you know the kind of those guys who really did take risks. We can talk a lot about risk, but a lot of the risk is economic. For these guys. The physical risk of space was part of what made it so fascinating in and truly awesome too Certainly two kids growing up. I grew up four weeks to watch other. All the space shuttle launches is how does not fit
into this new era of public private partnership of space exploration, Well, I mean there are astronauts, blinded, not celebrities the way they used to be partly because there is, in a whole, p, r and d three around making them famous something one of the great things and tat was the right stuff book was. How do you know there was a very conscious effort to turn these guys into here. You know they were on the cover of life magazine, they had a day that you know that now seems always trying to cover all of their laundering around and all the fun they were. Having yachting bellicose to Florida and making a book like you know, straight arrow bearings enough guys, whereas in part the irony that book was
they're dead Yeager, who everyone admired as them of bad asked pilot in history, the guy who broke the sound barrier, many other things. No one knew who was untold really me, wasn't a completely unknown, but he wasn't famous and and the book the right stuff is part of what made him much more famous. Then he ban. so we don't have that industry around or astronauts today, but there still, I think, you know pretty admired in and somebody astronauts on the space station of Man which do you don't become somewhat famous and social media, and so I think, they're still inspiring by heart. You know it's not you, it's not what it was in the sixties. That's what
you're a bit. I would imagine that in large part, because the context then was the cold war right, so so lifting these guys up was. It was a matter of national pride it at a time of this great power, competition. where's. My idea, that's one thing that we have talked about in that wonderful book. Was this idea? Solo combat you know, two opposing forces come together in the east. And out one warrior to represent a likelihood like the David and Goliath Story and that's kind of what the astronauts work They were representing the whole country. Today, it's more like really cool, highly trained people with really cool risky jobs. It doesnt have quite the same intensity, but I still think it something that people
can aspire to remain in the future. If our major competitor in China does what it intends to do in Spain is right, and we will this as yet I mean I'm policies uninterrupted John, I'm gonna, give you regard, but there's a dust. The government dimension here that has really been talked about. Gettin should be talked about what you talk briefly about licensing And something else for the rubber dobermans written about that Congress should actually get in the game and much like they issued a licensing and property licences on speck for territories in the way that had never seen that nobody owns, and I was just you know the speculative and got you out into the wilderness- that they should be issuing property licenses on spec for lies. You said asteroids in the belt properties and play them areas in the moon on Mars. And what have you in that would actually incentivize a kind of development that they're talking about, but the immediate threatened
the kind of science fiction in the immediate threat. Obviously, to the coal industry is the sort of thing that people scoffed at when Donald Trump created space horse is the prospect of a military diamond then space, which is not only real but present, we had anti satellite. Just from China as long ago as two thousand seven every vehicle and space just about every vehicle and space is a dual use. Vehicle, meaning be turned into a kill vehicle at a moment's notice and essentially kamikaze itself into another satellite, and we have the problem increasing problem of orbital junk that building up to a degree that people are getting very worried about and that can be have a cascading effect like like a splitting in
one thing last into another, and then about seventy two more than about setting the thirteen and becomes exponential in after five years, you have no way to acts of the atmosphere and that's a sort of thing that really picking me up at night and the prospects and that's not something of private enterprise can can deal with that's a million right and not some nets of prospect for the federal or they aware this oh yeah, there very aware of it, and I would therefore urge you to levels of the problem. One level is kind of a tragedy. The commons situation, where no one really has to pay to be present did their pants
but ass, to be present in space, but when their satellite runs out of fuel are falls apart or crashes into something else. It makes a bunch of space junk. It becomes a problem for every everyone, it's like pollution, so that there is so. This is a problem by itself and then, when China tested this Anti satellite weapon and a blue up a defunct satellite and sent shrapnel in all directions, that was a huge problem made the problem of space jump much much worse and we could be
talk about something as small as I mean a baby would be large, something of even in Raymond Triad. Yeah good can be out can be dangerous. I view if you saw the movie gravity yet was very fanciful, but was also really depicted the risk of this kind of cascading situation where space junk you things are crashing into each other and creating more and more of this junk and, as you say, it could get to a point where the density of debris flying around in orbit is so intense that you wouldn't be able to safely put people in orbit and end any venture into deep space. We now believe will probably involve some staging of supplies and fuel and other things in orbit. We need stations in orbit were from which we can launch are more deep space missions. So this based on things a real problem. Broader, is
China is very militaristic self they're going to space, they intend to dominate it, and I think this is this is gonna, be a challenge to us and I dont know about the spaceport I'm not sure it's the right approach necessarily but wish we need to be getting more Paired than we are for forgiveness rests with the problem of space. For us I will brook no dissent. I want. I want to talk about about about the culture which I think Christine was talking about an analog these issues and I would take space force as an example. So the interesting thing happened, which is that train of announced space force people live then scoffed very similarly, by the way to the way the people laughed and scoffed. When rob. Again announced the Strategic defence initiative. There was all STAR Ward, he one star wars as ST transmission of was
really the last hammer in the nail of the coffin of the Soviet Union, because, while wild smarting, pants, liberal science writers at the New York Times like William Broad thought. It was ridiculous. The Kremlin did not think it was ridiculous. The Kremlin was terrified of the Kremlin, understood that this meant a new kind of financial space race for them and that they really weren't gonna be able to match it, which is one of the reasons that Gorbachev went with perestroika and basically the whole thing. Cascaded out of you know out of existence, because you look at this end and people who don't know what they're talking about our aren't interested in these issues go! Oh, this is just you know. It's just Hollywood and well, it's fun. Bollywood nonsense of space force comes out. Everybody makes fond of it. Netflix announces its. Make a comic series called Space Force with Steve Corral made by the guy
made the office Gregg Daniel, so the whole obvious intent was to create some kind of a workplace comedy about how ludicrous space force was and from the conception to the execution? Something happened, which is that the creative t making it went. You know what this is kind of a just thing. Maybe you know like the people are gonna run like these are general. You know these are like serious military people, and you know there's stuff going on in space and I don't know so the show has this very peculiar tone, which is that it kind of stuff
they are being mash and then turned into a slightly comic version of the right stuff. It's got this very, very strange tone so that, and then also the attitude of Helen Mosque in jet. The approach towards long months, which is that the Smarty pants Twitter Roddy have basically treated him as though he is a lunatic, not ball You know the pot, smoking, sybaritic, idiot angular woes on Joe Rogan and smokes part, and then the SSC looks into him and all of this, and meanwhile he is.
the second richest person on earth. The second riches person who has ever lived on the planet, earth and because what he is doing and the things that he is doing seem to be very how'd. You sat very appealing to investors to Wall Street and add to a world that is looking forward. Instead of just looking up its nose at innovation and sort of Thomas Edison White, creative ferment, so Annie, I think,
been watching this Elon Musk story since his early days of getting into this field, and even when I was a popular mechanics, we used to this thing called the breakthrough awards and we would give we would give an award to various innovators in various text deals, including a particular what we called the leadership award, and I never argue with my staff that we should give one to Elon, musk and couple people that well not quite time yet he hasn't really proved himself yet and then you know The time came and it actually turned out to be. He was really just getting started, the stuff that he's accomplished, but between the value look, Tesla, and but especially what's happening in space is, is really unpaid. For any single entrepreneur, that I can dig up, you mentioned Edison, that's a pretty good model. Would somebody who succeed in all these different, very different fields, so you knock, I think, the days of people looking at their nose at Moscow.
have faded. Somebody just has one success after another. Clearly, a Corky guy, I think some people might feel they can be a little discipline in its communications. I I think that sometimes he goes off the deep and a little bit once in a while member. During that whole, when the kids were trapped in a cave, he kind of one off in a tear criticising some other rescuers or something it was a little little off. But but you know, maybe you have to be laid off to be that willing to go that far are as an entrepreneur, I mean that's. What is interesting is that he is really the only person I can think of honor who follows this model, which, as he is like the engineering billionaire where the other ones, we can think I've, not knotted, not the bill Gates and Steve Jobs, weren't cause they of course created software and stuff like that. But but.
an end and so did beat us, but that he is like the tinkerer in the garage and what's interesting to him as he makes a car, he makes a train and he's making a space ship. This is very much the early model and kind of combines the things that Christine was talking about right, which, as he is, though he is not himself piloting the aircraft so he's not Lindbergh warrior hard or or Chuckie Agar or the astronauts, but he is the guy play in the garage and there is a there's a with a fantastic tv movie in the late 70s, with a bald people and New Andy Griffith called called something like salvage to or something like that,
is about a guy literally living on a farm in Tennessee or something who builds a rocket out of you. No spare parts and shoots himself up into space and it's a delightful funny thing, but that was always the quest, and if you go to the, if you go to the there's, a great museum called the Museum of Aviation on Long island. Long island by the way was the cradle of aviation ex is called the cradle of aviation museum because, even though the Wright Brothers took off their took their flight offered at Kitty HAWK in in North Carolina, almost all of the early aviation stuff was done on long island, particularly near what's now a mall called Roosevelt field, which was literally a runway and helicopters plains, which were Limburg, took off from all that stuff. And if you'd do it's just like these people, they were like, they were hobbyists they built,
they were. They were crashing these things all over the place so that we could learn how to fly things and, of course, that feeling that kind of initiative that we take for granted as part of the as part of the way in which the twentieth century became the twentieth century there just And seem to be as much of an maybe Elon musk as a model for everybody growing up the way that some of these guys were four by people who came after them The answer is yes, some of the panache of Howard Hughes. You know before he went off the deep bad because he was in an innovator, an entrepreneur in in a lot of different, different fields, but especially in aviation, but also you went out with me, star is any live with this very glamorous celebrity life and I think something very little uncomfortable with mosques tendency to to behave that way. But I think it's maybe it's part of the package.
wasn't we all are and- and that's all I'm saying where I feel like- I was guilty of the same kind of pooling around the time that he got into this fight with the people who were rescuing the kids from the cave, and he said you know he said one of his rivals was a petty file. I mean I was it, it seem completely bananas and he does Sunday. He says I've, never slapped Emily, says stuff. He may be bipolar. He's got that that those those qualities, but there is that thing these. If you can't be, if you're, if you dont, have megalomania, if you don't have that kind of attitude you now are you be the kind of person you're gonna be now listen. We have to cut this punk asked ridiculously short, because Zoom apparently has decided to change its policies and force and is telling us that It's gonna cut us off, so unless we pay them, I guess we're gonna have to look at
that this is what does your terms times? We've done this on zoom, because we, since there are five of us usually we use a programme of assistance for so we're. Gonna have to go. I'm really sorry, Jim Mags, we're living. new space age thanks. So much for being with Us Commentary magazine that conference, a knowing Christine I'm John Podhoretz, keep the gamble, burning.
Transcript generated on 2020-12-22.