On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, The Verge’s science reporter Loren Grush talks with Recode’s Kara Swisher about Elon Musk’s SpaceX and how the company stacks up against private competitors like Jeff Bezos’s rocket company, Blue Origin, and the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance.
You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode, and you’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech and the week’s news. You can send us your questions on Twitter with the #tooembarrassed. We also have an email address, email@example.com. Reminder, there are two Rs and two Ss in embarrassed in case you are unable to spell.
Today we are going to space. “Lost in Space,” actually, is a very good show on Netflix, but we’re gonna talk about regular space, not being lost in it. I’m joined today by The Verge’s science reporter Loren Grush, who covers SpaceX and everything else space related for the fantastic website. She was also the host of a video series for The Verge last year called Spacecraft. Loren, welcome to Too Embarrassed to Ask.
Loren Grush: Thanks for having me, I’m excited to be here.
Well, we’re gonna talk many space things. We’re taping this on Tuesday, April 17th, and SpaceX had originally planned a rocket launch for later today. What happened?
Well, it was planned for Monday. It’s not really clear what happened. About two and a half hours before they were supposed to go up, we heard rumors that they were delaying, and then SpaceX said they were going to stand down to do some preflight checks, specifically over guidance, navigation and control. The next date is Wednesday at 6:51pm.
Right ... and talk about why they delayed. This is common, right? This is a common thing?
Oh yeah, this happens all the time. Something pops up in their sensors or something a couple hours beforehand, and with this launch in particular, and launches like it, they have basically what’s known as an instantaneous launch window. So they really only had 30 seconds in order for them to launch at the right time, and get to the right orbit that they need to go, and make sure that they don’t run into any other satellites on the way. So if you can’t make that 30-second window then you gotta delay until another time. It just seemed like something was gonna push them beyond the 30 seconds.
Something was gonna push them ... but you do expect it to go, correct?
I don’t want to say that because I could jinx it.
Right, right, right.
But jinxing is a very important science in the space reporting field.
Yes, of course. Jinxing is critical.
The good thing about this one is they’re launching a satellite to go searching for planets outside of our solar system. It’s going into orbit around Earth, so they really can go ... you know, they have a lot of backup launch dates from now till the 26th. It’ll have to stand down for a bit if it doesn’t go up then, but they have a bunch of opportunities.
Explain this particular launch, and it’s the latest in a series of rocket launches conducted by SpaceX. Talk about the goal of these launches. Some of them have been delivering things to space but there are other things, so why don’t we go through them?
This one is special for SpaceX because it’s their first big science mission for NASA that doesn’t revolve around launching an Earth observation satellite. They’re launching this test mission which is gonna look for planets outside of our solar system, ranging from small rocky worlds like Earth to gas giants like Jupiter. It’s a really big mission for NASA that everyone’s really excited about, so this one’s a big deal for SpaceX in that regard. SpaceX has also been launching for NASA for, I think, at least six years now. They regularly send cargo to and from the International Space Station. That’s something that they’ve got really good at.
So this is like long-haul trucking essentially, right?
Yeah, basically. They’re the UPS service for the Space Station. Meanwhile, the other launches that they regularly do are launches of commercial communication satellites to lower Earth orbit or to geosynchronous orbit, which is much higher up.
Which they do for not just NASA but others, many others.
Well, yeah, those are specifically for commercial companies.
They just recently, as in a couple years ago, they just recently got into the national security payload market, which is where they launch satellites for the U.S. government, that’s not NASA, for defense. You might have heard about that when they launched a highly classified payload earlier this year called Zuma, which disappeared and there was a bunch of hullabaloo over was it SpaceX’s fault or did something else happen. Recently it turned out it was not SpaceX’s fault. It was the contractor that built the satellite, built a faulty mechanism that did not deploy the satellite. So, that’s their bread and butter in a nutshell. They’ve got other plans but for now that’s, you know ...
But that’s a lot, that’s a lot for beyond being payload essentially delivery which I think is just the bottom rung of this kind of thing. This one is a science one, which must interest Elon, I’m sure, this idea of doing science probes and things like that.
I think they like this one in particular because it’s looking for planets and SpaceX is all about taking humans to other planets, so maybe in that regard they like that one. I think Elon and SpaceX see these missions as what they need to do in order to help fund their ultimate goal, which is to build this huge rocket that can take people into space and start taking people to the moon or to Mars.
To Mars ... Yeah I know, you know I’ve been interviewed about this a number of times. He’s obsessed with this constant idea of doing this. Their business is essentially putting up things into space, correct? I mean right now at this point. How are they doing with that? I want to talk about the reliability of the rockets and everything, but talk about the business.
The business seems booming. For the longest time, SpaceX has always been claiming that they were going to up the frequency of their launches, and that never really panned out. In the last year, I don’t remember the exact number off the top of my head but I think it was close to 20, the number of their launches last year, and they’re hoping to do even more than that this year. That might not seem like a lot but in terms of the rest of the commercial launch provider industry that’s a ton of rockets a year. They’re finally making good on their promise of launching once every couple weeks. It’s not a steady cadence but when you average it out it’s getting there.
All right, talk about business booming, talk about the business itself. So it’s looking for more funding, there’s all kinds of things going on with it. There was a story just this week about their funding. Talk about their business as a business in terms of making money. It would seem that this is something that could make money, compared to a lot of their other ... all difficult businesses that he runs.
You’ve also tapped into kind of one of the great mysteries of SpaceX, too. We have a good idea of how they make their money. They are launching commercial satellites and they get a lot of very nice contracts from NASA such as launching this upcoming satellite. They’re also developing technology to send astronauts to the Space Station, so not just cargo. They have a lot of really nice contracts from NASA too, and then of course they have their investments. That’s their income. In terms of if they’re profitable, or if they’re making a lot of money, that’s kind of ... if we could figure that out it would be a very big story.
Right. That would be nice. That would be a good story. Why wouldn’t I want you to do that? I mean but they’re raising money too. This is an idea that they’re investing in the future. What was the valuation? I forget this past week or something? A lot ...
It was a lot.
It was a lot. So let’s talk about how reliable they are, because that’s really where their business ... this is a very highly ... this is not like delivering — well, social media has turned out to be weaponized too — but talk about the reliability of these rockets and where we are from a technological point of view.
If you’d asked me this question two years ago, I would be a little iffy. They’ve really come around. The background on that is SpaceX suffered two really big failures. One was during a launch to the International Space Station and the rocket disintegrated during flight. Another one happened when they were on the launch pad and they were fueling for a preflight test and the rocket exploded.
It fast-fired. The SpaceX people don’t like to use the word “explode,” and it was a “fast fire.”
It’s an explosion, right?
It exploded. If you watch the video, it exploded. For a little while there I was unsure. There was a point where if they had had another mishap I don’t know if they could’ve recovered.
They returned to flight after their second explosion, which was the launch pad one, really quickly. It was only, I want to say, four and a half months. It was very short, and that’s not industry standard. Usually when you have an explosion ... For example, another launch provider for NASA, Orbital ATK, suffered an explosion during launch as well, and it took them one or two years to get back to normal. They got back together really fast and they’ve been, knock on wood, they’ve been flawless ever since. I think now maybe if they had a mishap they’d be fine. They’ve really shown that they’ve come back from that failure and they’ve launched quite a number of times. Not only have they been launching fine but they’ve also been landing a lot of their rockets just fine, too.
Right. You know, I just watched the other day, I was on a plane, I’ve been on a plane a lot lately and I didn’t realize he’s on “Young Sheldon.” Did you see it? Did you ever see it? It’s a show by Chuck Lorre, and at the end he figures out how to save ... This kid, he figures out how to land rockets and to save money. And at the end, Elon’s reading his stuff and he’s used his [idea], created SpaceX from it. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. But there he is, acting away.
I saw his cameo on the “Big Bang Theory,” which I guess is related to ...
Yeah, it’s the same one. Yeah. It was very funny. So, in terms of being reliable are there any safety issues related to that if they’re moving so quickly?
There’s definitely a lot of concern just because SpaceX moves at a faster pace than the space industry has long done. NASA is very meticulous when it comes to how they iterate. If you wanna do a change you have to run it by a person who runs it by a person who runs it by a person. With SpaceX they were making new changes every day. They kind of had to work with NASA, like NASA is not that big a fan of that, so they’ve kind of had to compromise in that regard. That was definitely a criticism for a while, especially from old-school engineers.
Now they are really being put to the test because, like I said, they’re developing this new technology to take astronauts and that is just something that, I mean safety, obviously, is a concern whenever you launch a rocket. But when you put people on it that’s when the stakes are super high. NASA is holding them to a very, very rigorous safety standard before they can launch people.
All right. And when is that? When is that plan?
That’s a good question. They were originally supposed to be launching by 2017. Obviously that didn’t happen. They still have quite a few more ... some crucial test flights that they need to do. Those are tentatively scheduled for this year. A few government accountability office reports have cast that shadow in doubt.
I believe that they probably won’t fly people until next year. What they have to do first is they have to fly the spacecraft uncrewed, with nobody on it. Then they have to do an abort test which is basically if the rocket disintegrated in orbit, like it once did, could the spacecraft that’s carrying the people take them to safety with a decaying rocket on their back. So they have to do those ...
Sounds like the plot of a movie. A movie I saw ... had the same airplane. It’s a great place to do a rocket crash movie. All right, so how involved is Elon then? Because this has been sort of his, he talks about it incessantly, and talks about it a lot ... about the idea of manned things. How involved is he day to day in SpaceX? I know it’s run by several other people. Is he the principal person here or not? Because I think there are ...
I believe he’s heavily involved. He’s credited as the lead designer. I’m assuming now he might be a little more focused on Tesla, but it sounds like he splits his time pretty evenly.
And boring. Right? A Boring Company. How do you assess the other executives?
Tesla used to produce cars.
Yes, that’s right, that’s right. How do you assess the other executives there? Can you give some light into them so people who don’t follow SpaceX ... there are several other key executives there.
Oh for sure. I wouldn’t say she’s unsung, but the one that is really kind of I think is super cool is Gwen Shotwell. She’s the president. I feel like she is kind of the brick and mortar of the whole operation. Another big one up there is Hans Koenigsmann, you’ll see him a lot. He’s the ... they change his title all time, but vice president of flight reliability was I think the most recent one. Those are some of the key players that you’ll notice from the company.
But Elon gets the lion’s share of the attention, of course. But he’s quite involved because he does have, and not just Tesla, but The Boring Company too, which just got some funding.
Yeah. But I mean he’s always around when big things are happening. He was out there for Falcon Heavy doing the press and all that stuff. I think he’s pretty heavily involved. If you get him started on the engineering side of things he’ll talk your ear off.
Yeah, he’s quite ... yeah, absolutely ... So we’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. We’ll keep talking about SpaceX and more after this. Loren, you have to do some ads, I’m sorry to ask you to do this but can you give me your best reading of the line, “hashtag money”?
Sure. Hashtag money.
Oh nice, well done. I like it a lot.
We’re back with Loren Grush from The Verge and we’re talking about space. She is their space reporter ... are you officially the space reporter?
I think my official title is science reporter. Space is a very comprehensive beat.
Yes, it’s big.
So I don’t have much time for anything else.
The final frontier. Have you watched all these space shows lately? There’s a lot of space shows on the air. Did you watch “Lost in Space”?
I haven’t. I hate to admit it, sometimes I get a little overwhelmed.
By space? So what do you watch? Like “Game of Thrones” or something?
Oh for sure. I’m obsessed with “Game of Thrones.” We can have a whole other podcast about that. But I am also getting into reality TV a lot because it’s so the opposite of space.
Oh no. Who? Who, Loren?
I’m sorry! Please still like me.
You know what, I have interviewed Kim Kardashian twice so I have nothing, no excuses. But let’s talk about other people in space. Elon isn’t the only one trying to go to space. Let’s talk a little about Jeff Bezos and what others in the industry are doing. What’s going on with them? Jeff I’ve known for a long time, had a big interest in flight and all kinds of planes and things like that. But he has his thing.
His company is one to watch for sure. Blue Origin is Jeff’s venture. They’re not as far along as SpaceX is, obviously, but they have a really solid plan. They are being smart about their business.
I think one thing that people don’t understand, the trend of the space industry these days is all about vertical integration. Before then, you had all these different companies that would make different parts of spacecraft and then you would bring them all together. Musk and others noticed that kind of slowed down the process and so they do everything themselves. That streamlines things a bit. That’s similar to what Blue Origin is doing too. They’re building everything themselves all in one, in a vertical integrated line. And at the same time they hope to sell some of their hardware to other customers. A big thing that they’re gambling on is this new engine that they’re building called the BE4.
Okay, explain that.
The BE4 is going to power Blue Origin’s new orbital rocket called the New Glenn. Blue Origin has only tested their suborbital rocket, which means it obviously doesn’t go into orbit around Earth, but they’re hoping to use that to take tourists into space. They really want to sell flights on their New Glenn rocket, which is gonna be comparable to the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and that’s gonna be powered by this new BE4 engine. At the same time, they don’t just want to use the BE4 to power the New Glenn, they’re hoping to sell it to another rocket provider called the United Launch Alliance, which is tasked with mostly launching government satellites.
Right. So what’s his business? What’s Blue Origin’s main business? Is it this consumer play or more ...?
For now they’re in pre-business.
I hear Jeff Bezos is rich.
They have some NASA deals. I don’t know if they’re contracted or they’re just kind of working with NASA on some research. They’ve also started signing on new customers for the New Glenn. They’re hoping, I believe in the next year or two, to start flying customers, like people, tourists, on their New Shepard suborbital vehicles.
And what are they gonna do? What are people gonna do? They’re just gonna shoot them up there and shoot them down, or what?
Yeah basically. So the way it works ...
You don’t get to get off, right?
No, hopefully not. So the way it works is it’s kind of like a mini rocket. Mini... I mean it’s like 20, 30 stories high. Anyway, no that’s not true. Don’t quote me on that. I’m totally wrong. So they launch on top of this rocket on a capsule that’s on top of it. They ride to space on top of the rocket inside of the capsule, and then when you get to space the capsule and the rocket break apart, and the people basically float inside for a couple of minutes.
I think it’s like four minutes. You can have that moment of A) I’m in space, B) I’m floating and C) I can see the curvature of the Earth, which only a couple of hundred people have done. Then the capsule and the rocket come back down in separate pieces. The capsule lands with parachutes. The rocket lands propulsively, so what that means is the engine reignites and lowers itself down gently. You might have seen those videos. Basically it’s a fully reusable vehicle, which is pretty great when it comes to rockets.
Yeah, it saves money.
Yeah, it saves money. They’ve tested one vehicle a bunch of times and it did great. They thought they were gonna destroy it on one test and it still survived, so now it’s .... I think they’ve been taking it on like ...
And the capsule?
The capsule is fine. They’ve taken it on a road show. They put it on display in a bunch of places. Now they’re testing a new vehicle which they tested in December of last year.
And so the idea is for people ... how much does that cost? That’s gonna cost for people to go up there.
That is the golden question. I believe people are speculating in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Just to go up and float around? Okay, all right.
Yeah. Wouldn’t you pay that?
Oh come on!
My son just did indoor skydiving and I was mad to pay $99.
So anyway ...
... This weekend for his birthday. Would you pay that much money to do that?
You know it’s so funny ... I’ve been thinking about it all the time and, it’s a house. If it was offered to me in a way I could afford it, yes.
Okay. What’s the price that you have? It’s gonna cost nothing at some point. Is there one company that’s clearly ahead in both these areas, in consumer? Is it Blue Origin or is it Elon’s group? Or someone else?
SpaceX is definitely very far along. To be fair, when we talk about all of these vehicles that are coming online, they’ve actually launched their big one, the Falcon Heavy, which they kept talking about for a while but they actually did it.
Is there anyone else? Is there some crazy internet Chinese billionaire or something?
We shouldn’t also count out United Launch Alliance. They are a venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin and they are very reliable. They’ve been launching much longer than SpaceX has, but SpaceX gets a lot more attention because they are much more innovative and they’re constantly trying new things, like landing their rockets. ULA just isn’t as sexy and they’re kind of from an older version of the space industry, but they have very reliable vehicles and like I said, they’re working on a new vehicle that might use this Blue Origin BE4 engine in it. That vehicle is called Vulcan. It could be kind of cool because they want to reuse some of it but it wasn’t until landing the rockets like SpaceX has, they want to catch the engines of the rocket in midair.
Basically they would deploy parachutes to slow down and then a helicopter would come in and swoop and pick them up.
Oh my God. Okay, so do you imagine that they are all going to make money? Like lots of people want to go up? It’s either gonna be a consumer thing or get stuff up there, mining, or whatever the heck it becomes.
The big question mark is tourism going to be a profitable business. I just don’t know. Maybe. A bunch of people bought tickets on Richard Branson’s space plane.
Oh yeah, and then there’s Richard Branson wandering around doing his thing, right?
It’s all these billionaires. There are two books that came out from my peers in the space journals in world recently that basically just focused on the rocket billionaires. Space barons and rocket billionaires.
Yeah, I forgot about Richard Branson. His is called Virgin, right? Virgin Galactic.
Yeah, Virgin Galactic. They also have an offshoot called Virgin Orbit, which is geared toward launching small satellites.
All right. And where’s that?
They’re in Mojave, and I think Virgin Orbit is in Long Beach.
And how are they doing?
Well, they just had their first powered flight, and that was a big one because it was the first time they’d ignited the engine on that type of vehicle since they had that fatal crash in 2014. They seem to be doing well.
All right, so there’s gonna be more of these then. There’ll be several of these companies.
Oh they’re going to have to do a ton of tests before ...
Where does NASA fit into all this? This used to be NASA’s job, and other government agencies. Are there any ones that are particularly ... that continue to be aggressive or the funding is still strong? China? Russia?
Okay, China is a whole other discussion. NASA is working on their own rocket and it’s called the Space Launch System. It’s supposed to be massive but you kind of tapped into, “Do we need this massive rocket?” NASA’s SLS has cost a fortune. Meanwhile, the development of all these other vehicles, they come from investment, and Bezos is putting in a billion dollars of his stock each year.
Right, free capital. It’s essentially free capital.
Yeah exactly. Whereas the taxpayers have been funding NASA’s SLS for however long, over a decade, and it’s still not here. It’s costing a ton of money.
And our current president doesn’t seem super interested in science.
No, you don’t have to say it, I will.
It’s different for space. Not a lot has changed in that realm.
Right. What about Russia?
Russia has a lot of money problems. They keep making these bold proclamations that they’re gonna go to the moon or they’re gonna do yada yada yada, but I mean, they have to get their finances under control because I doubt they’ll be able to afford it.
Yeah. So governments aren’t the way. It’s gonna be these guys. So last question ... this notion, earlier this week Elon tweeted, he’s been tweeting a lot of crazy stuff lately about Tesla, but this was really interesting ... SpaceX will try to bring, he’s making jokes in a lot of ways, to be fair. He’s been making a lot of funny — well, I don’t know if they’re so funny to Tesla people — but Elon Musk tweeted that SpaceX will try to bring a rocket upper stage back from orbital velocity using a giant party balloon. What does that mean? I think he’s serious, right?
It’s funny that you mentioned that because I’m looking at this right now. It’s actually from a couple of replied tweets that he made. It’s based in very solid science. I don’t think ... The word party balloon probably isn’t the best description.
He’s being a visual. He’s doing a visual. I like him.
Yeah, but I’ll give you a preview from my article that is going up. It’s this idea of, so whenever you reenter the Earth’s atmosphere you’re coming in really fast and you’re coming in really hot, and that’s why you notice these capsules are these teardrop designs, because you want to spread out the heat when you’re coming in towards the Earth. It’s kind of that idea, you want a bigger surface area. So maybe if you inflated this larger structure you could have a bigger surface area which would make you slow down, not as fast, and it wouldn’t heat up as much. That’s one of the big problems when you’re coming in from the atmosphere. You don’t want to break apart.
Yeah, so it is a giant party balloon.
Yeah, I mean, I guess it depends on how you decorate it.
Yeah, that’s true. That would be cool. That would be really cool if you put a big ... what could you put on it?
Happy Birthday ...
You know he’s kidding ... but he’s not kidding.
That’s the thing. I’m sure you’ve learned from reporting on him, but I’ve also learned that his joke tweets are never jokes.
No, they’re never jokes.
Unless he’s talking about Tesla Kilo, but even then ...
No, you never know ...
Tesla Kilo, is that it?
Tesla Kilo, yeah, he’s screwing with all of us which I think he enjoys, particularly the press. He should enjoy it. He should do that. I like when he does that. We’re gonna take another quick break for a word from our sponsors, but we’ll be back with Loren Grush from The Verge. We’re talking about space. Loren, once more with feeling, can you give me your best reading of the line hashtag money?
Oh I like that one. That’s really good.
And we’re back with Loren Grush from The Verge talking about space. I’ve got some more questions for her but first we got a couple of questions from one of our listeners, Liz Weeks: “What’s the difference between SpaceX and other commercial space flight endeavors? Is Elon more into colonization? Is anyone interested in scaling so that normal folks can go into space? Why would I go into space besides novelty?” She has a lot of questions.
Oh my God that’s a lot. Where should I begin?
Colonization. Yeah, he thinks we’re all gonna die, I think.
That’s very clear. He set up SpaceX with the goal of putting people on other planets. I don’t know ... I don’t believe that goal is the same for many other companies, no.
Yeah, he does. He wants to put people there. What did he say to me once ... he said it a lot after that, he wants to die on Mars, just not on landing, right? He wants to stay there. All right, so colonization for Elon. So how do you get to a scale on normal folk who can go into space where it isn’t expensive? Relatively inexpensive. Like going to Disneyland or something.
Going to space is all about lowering the cost of access to space. That’s what Elon has been trying to do with SpaceX. It’s to provide relatively cheap rides to space. Once you lower that then that becomes more of a reality. And then of course it’s also about lowering the ... keeping people alive in space. The biggest prohibitive cost so far has been rocket launches. Up until now your typical rocket launch has been hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. SpaceX offers up the Falcon 9 starting at 62 million.
That’s relatively inexpensive.
It’s pretty inexpensive, yeah, in the field for sure.
It’s still a big number. You have to put up a lot of people at once so it has to come down rather considerably.
Yeah. I can’t remember what Elon said for the cost of what the BFR is, which is their big Mars rocket. I don’t know. Like I said, looking into how all of these finances work and how they’re going to be able to make a Mars mission cheap, I don’t see that happening for quite some time.
Yeah, me neither.
Because of all of the infrastructure that’s needed to keep people alive.
And you’ve got to have stuff when you get there, right? You can’t just like arrive and be like, “Hey, what now?” You gotta get back, presumably. Or maybe you don’t get back.
He can make the rocket cheap but ...
You don’t really come back, right? You don’t come back. You stay.
I don’t even know if you make it.
Yeah, but if you make it you don’t come back. Unless you’re Sandra Bullock in some weird ass movie where she gets to come back, which was just unbelievable. It still bugs my kids, that movie. I have to say, they just don’t believe that could happen.
Anyway, our reader Todd Herberline wants to know, “Are there any legal restrictions for creating a cemetery on the Moon?” He says it would be a good initial business market for the Moon because the cemetery could probably outlast humanity. You don’t need money after you’re dead anyway. I don’t know why you’d want to do a cemetery. I would think a garbage dump would be better, right?
That’s such a specific question.
A garbage dump, right? Put all our dirty stuff there. All our dirty chemicals.
The biggest legal restriction you would have falls under the purview of the Outer Space Treaty, which is a document that we have signed along with a bunch of other countries about how you explore other planetary bodies. There’s something called planetary protection, where you don’t want to contaminate other worlds with your germs, because then it would be harder for us to know if we found life, because what if you just brought a bug from Earth? At the same time, you don’t want to bring back some kind of alien bug and contaminate the world with some alien virus. But the Moon, though ...
The Moon’s just like a rock, right?
The Moon is deemed ... it’s a certain class of planetary body where it’s basically considered dead. So you don’t really ...
There’s not much going on on there.
Yeah, nothing’s gonna survive out there. I don’t believe there is any legal restrictions, however I don’t think the State Department would think that’s a good use of the Moon.
Bringing all those bodies ... Todd, that’s strange. I could think of a lot of other things you could bring to the Moon.
Todd, what the hell, Todd. Dead people. How about real dirty chemicals, that’s what I say we put there. We shove them down a hole and then someone will come and get us. Some monster.
All right. Steve Hamill asks, “Why did they decide to build the BFR in LA when they could have built it anywhere on the Gulf Coast and avoid a long Panama Canal trip?” That’s a good question. It’s a very highly technical question. Why did they do that?
Good question. I think quite possibly it’s because it’s right next door to their current headquarters. Also, I believe they picked Hawthorne, which is where their headquarters are, because it probably provided good incentives for them to build there.
Right. People ... technology people are there.
I think it probably would have meant splitting a big work force to put it in Florida or wherever else.
That’s where they do most of the take-offs from, right?
Yeah, yeah. But they’re also building, yeah, they’re building a spot in the south of Texas, so those Panama Canal trips might not be so long.
And then what about doing one in California? Is that a possibility?
It depends on where you’re going. That’s a good question, actually. They want to go to Mars and the Moon with this thing. If there’s an orbital trajectory that takes them south instead, because you’re suppose to fly over water in the U.S., then they could launch out of Vandenburg, but they’d have to modify the pad to fit such a big vehicle. So perhaps that’s the thing. They could launch in other areas maybe in California and just build their own launch pad. They’re gonna have to figure out where they’re gonna launch from, basically, because there’s nothing big enough to support the BFR just yet.
For now, it’s Florida, people.
I wouldn’t worry about where they’re launching from when it comes to building the rockets.
They’ll get the rockets there. They’ll move them.
It’ll get to where it needs to go.
Yeah absolutely. The post office will do it under Donald Trump, apparently. He was on Sun Up. Can you imagine, “Elon’s taking us, it’s a dollar.” It’s $1.2 billion to move it versus he said $1.46, whatever. Anyway, it’s interesting. He’ll get real mad if Jeff Bezos starts using the post office to mail rockets. He’ll get real pissed. He’ll get a tweet for that. A big old tweet. “Jeff Bezos is using the post office to mail his rockets!”
Yeah, I wonder if he even knows that Jeff Bezos has this rocket venture.
Now he has a couple of payload surprises too. You’re not gonna stop Jeff Bezos, sorry Trump, you’re not gonna do it.
I’m gonna finish up by asking you about the Mars thing, cause that’s the thing is the people. This is where we’re going next, is people in space. Correct? Getting people into space?
For commercial companies, yeah, we’re entering that realm.
Delivering of satellites and science stuff has been going on, you know Yuri Milner does it, that’s gonna be ongoing, this idea of searching space for aliens and things like that. The idea is to get people out there, right? Pretty much that’s the next step.
The next step that’s always been on the horizon I guess has been this suborbital tourism. That’s probably gonna happen ... well, first what might happen is SpaceX and Boeing, who are developing these capabilities in astronauts to the International Space Station, that’s coming online soon. That’s not something that they’re gonna be selling to the general public though. That’s for NASA. Space tourism is almost here, she said tentatively, cause it’s always been almost here, but it could be ...
Do you have a date?
Bezos’s Blue Origin is looking promising. For sure. And Virgin Galactic did come back. I mean, they still have a lot of work to do but there’s promise. In terms of much more ambitious flights than that, whenever Elon says we’re going to Mars in 2024 or whatever I just kind of roll my eyes.
Going to Mars, you have to think about the intense amount of work that is going to be needed. It’s gonna be an international effort, multiple space companies are going to have to be involved. It’s not gonna be just SpaceX. NASA is gonna be involved, it’s gonna take ...
And you have to have the government interested in it and it’s not.
Right, and the government interest isn’t quite there.
It’s not there at all.
Nobody really wants to go to Mars. Everyone wants to go to the Moon, at least in the international community, which is why the Trump administration dialed back and is now going to the Moon because of geopolitical interest. I think the Moon is definitely much closer on the horizon than Mars.
So you just go, walk around, and come back, right? In that one? Is that right? Is that correct?
The goal now is to put houses and a base up there so we can have a permanent presence. And then the idea is to use that as a jumping-off point to go to Mars.
I see. All right. Well, it’ll be a long time, correct? It’ll be a very long time. So Moon first, then Mars.
Yeah. I mean, that’s the goal for now, but we could get a new president in a couple years and it all changes again.
I don’t know, we got some things on this Earth we gotta fix, I think. I’m one of those people. I’m one of those grumpy people. But this is very exciting. Yes, I am, I’m sorry. I never wanted to get in a space vehicle my whole life, although I do enjoy a good “Star Trek.”
Our government does not fund NASA that much so ...
Yeah it doesn’t fund anything that much anymore. Anyway, so I appreciate ... Loren, thank you so much for coming on. This has been a great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. We look forward to your story about the giant party balloon. I’m very excited about that.
Yeah, I’m excited about it, too.
Thanks for joining me.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.