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Space

How SpaceX and the Quest For Mars Almost Sunk Tesla Motors 126

braindrainbahrain writes: Elon Musk and his rocket company are well known to Slashdottters. This article and book excerpt tell the story of the creation of SpaceX and how it almost sank Musk's other company, Tesla Motors. Musk recalls, "I could either pick SpaceX or Tesla or split the money I had left between them. That was a tough decision. If I split the money, maybe both of them would die. If I gave the money to just one company, the probability of it surviving was greater, but then it would mean certain death for the other company." But then, at the last moment, years of work at SpaceX finally paid off: "[O]n Dec. 23, 2008, SpaceX received a wonderful shock. The company won a $1.6 billion contract for 12 NASA resupply flights to the space station. Then the Tesla deal ended up closing successfully, on Christmas Eve, hours before Tesla would have gone bankrupt. Musk had just a few hundred thousand dollars left and could not have made payroll the next day." Also, it turns out the inspiration for SpaceX was the idea of sending mice to Mars.
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How SpaceX and the Quest For Mars Almost Sunk Tesla Motors

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  • by Flavianoep ( 1404029 ) on Friday May 15, 2015 @10:27AM (#49697559)

    Also, it turns out the inspiration for SpaceX was the idea of sending mice to Mars.

    What would be to point of sending mice to Mars?... unless it was about sending the mice to Mars.

    • by Daetrin ( 576516 )
      Giving _the_ mice interplanetary space capabilities seems like a really horrible idea. Unless you're counting on them being content with taking over _any_ world, and Mars would suit them just as well as Earth. (Which would itself probably be another horrible idea.)
      • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Friday May 15, 2015 @10:43AM (#49697681)

        Well australia started as a human penal colony. Mars can start a bit smaller as the mouse penal colony. i propose we include all mousketeers too.

        I then propose we grant honoury mousketeer status to bieber.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Dude, there were people living there for quite some time prior to the pohms turnings up (prisoners of her/his majesty). It is bad enough that the Australian government is still in denial, the rest of the world should also not play. The 'adjective' people (the Australian government still refuses to accept their national identities and continues to refer to them as an adjective - aboriginal).

          Stop the crap. Just like another group of people, where the history and culture are denied and not accepted as being

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        I donno, if Mars was also built to compute the Question, then perhaps getting them there would have been good for Arthur.
    • by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Friday May 15, 2015 @10:36AM (#49697623)

      What would be to point of sending mice to Mars?

      Because it's hard to type in a space suit.

    • Re:The mice again! (Score:5, Informative)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday May 15, 2015 @11:00AM (#49697801) Homepage

      What would be to point of sending mice to Mars?... unless it was about sending the mice to Mars.

      When it comes to manned exploration of the Solar system, there's two areas we pretty much have little to no understanding of;

      - long term biological effects at other than 1G or 0G.
      - long term radiation effects outside the Earth's magnetosphere.

      As it turns out, these are the two things we absolutely must have an understanding of to venture long term beyond LEO.

      • by itzly ( 3699663 )

        - long term radiation effects outside the Earth's magnetosphere.

        You die.

      • - long term biological effects at other than 1G or 0G.

        Although we haven't tested the long term effects of living in gravity between 0G and 1G, it's one of those things where we pretty much know what the outcome will be, even if the exact value is unknown.

        Like, we know the effect of not getting hit by a punch. We also know the effect of getting hit by a Mike Tyson uppercut. And although no one has been hit by a Justin Bieber punch yet, we can predict that the result will be somewhere between not getting hit by a punch and a Mike Tyson uppercut.

        • by vivian ( 156520 )

          There's plenty of evidence to suggest that the long term effects of living at 1G is that you die too.

          • However, the evidence isn't significant at p.05. There have been about a hundred billion people born in 1G environments, and about 7% haven't died.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Mars needs mice so that some of them can be bikers.

    • Since mice are the most intelligent species on Earth with Dolphins being the second and humans being the third, it makes sense that if we encounter any extraterrestrial life forms, we would want to send our best and brightest to have first contact. Besides, humans are among the most ignorant and technologically backward people in the universe.
    • Are you pondering what I'm pondering?
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday May 15, 2015 @10:36AM (#49697625) Homepage
    But that is not the whole story. Everyone thinks the story is:

    Guy gets lucky and wins the lottery!

    But this not the story - not literally or figuratively.

    Instead real life works like this:

    Guy gets lucky and wins the lottery and ....

    1) loses it all within 5 years because he has now idea how to deal with his luck.

    2) works his ass off to turn his momentary luck into something long lasting.

    Musk, like Gates, Jobs, etc. etc. all got lucky and had to work their asses off to take a bit of luck and turn it into a thriving huge success.

    But that hard work they did doesn't mean their success did not depend on their luck as much as it did on their work.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2015 @11:04AM (#49697829)

      You've got the order of events reversed. Guy works his ass off so that he is prepared to take advantage of the opportunity when good luck strikes.

      You never hear about the guys who worked their asses off but did not get lucky. There are way more of those guys than there are guys who did get lucky.

      • It's usually not that luck doesn't strike, because it generally does if you're doing something right. The problem is that you also tend to get struck by bad luck.

        Based on the article I would guess that a random unexpected setback could easily have brought Tesla out of business in late 2008. Those sort of things happen all the time.

    • But that hard work they did doesn't mean their success did not depend on their luck as much as it did on their work.

      There's a great little (light, easy-to-read) book "The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives" which explains this very well in the last chapter. The truth is that randomness plays a huge role in success and failure of all sorts of endeavors. BUT, as the book points out with extensive examples, that doesn't mean we're powerless and just have to accept whatever the random dice of fate serve up for us. We can work hard to weight the dice a little, but even more important, we control how many throws of the dice we get. Successful people are those who are smart, hard-working and persistent

      Had SpaceX not gotten the NASA contract, Tesla would undoubtedly have suffered, and Musk would have been scrambling to save it. I'd give him good odds of succeeding, too, either with alternative financing, or by closing the doors and starting over, or... something. And maybe he wouldn't have managed it, but I guarantee he wouldn't just have given up and said "Well, bad luck, I'm out". Because people who would do that don't get to where Musk is, no matter how lucky they are.

      • Good description.

        I say that as someone doing startups with the knowledge that the failure rate is over 90%, but that I still have a long career ahead of me and I only need one to work out.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Successful people are those who are smart, hard-working and persistent

        The point though is that there are a lot of UN-successful people with the same traits and less luck. Sometimes their luck isn't sufficient to give them the means to persist. The idea that unsuccessful people are invariably the architect of their own failure is toxic.

      • >we control how many throws of the dice we get. Successful people are those who are smart, hard-working and persistent

        Which is, in fact, believe it or not the number one advantage of a solid social safety net. If you look at businesses - 80% fail in their first year. More importantly - looking at the successful ones the average owner of a successful business has had 3 failed businesses in the past (remember that's an average so for half of them it's twice that).

        What this means is that entrepreneurship is

      • I'd give him good odds of succeeding, too, either with alternative financing, or by closing the doors and starting over, or... something. And maybe he wouldn't have managed it, but I guarantee he wouldn't just have given up and said "Well, bad luck, I'm out". Because people who would do that don't get to where Musk is, no matter how lucky they are.

        Other than blind celebrity worship - I can see no basis for that assumption. Musk got to where he was precisely because he was lucky.

        Successful people

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2015 @11:16AM (#49697917)

      I believe I read a study a while back about luck. They found that the random 'lucky' events weren't really so random. Usually the 'lucky' people worked hard to put themselves in the position for that lucky break to happen. While something like winning the lottery does take luck, you still have to put yourself in the position to have that chance at luck.

      As you point out that one lucky event is a fleeting moment, it takes work to make it last.

      • by ranton ( 36917 )

        They found that the random 'lucky' events weren't really so random. Usually the 'lucky' people worked hard to put themselves in the position for that lucky break to happen. While something like winning the lottery does take luck, you still have to put yourself in the position to have that chance at luck.

        That is a bit of a red herring when trying to limit the role of luck in monumental success stories. No one really thinks they can win the lottery without buying a lottery ticket. And they don't think they can become a billionaire without having ownership stock in a company.

        Some people simply understand that a large percentage of people who do take smart risks still end up failing regardless of their level of ability or persistence. Its likely even the majority of persistent and highly skilled entrepreneurs

      • While something like winning the lottery does take luck, you still have to put yourself in the position to have that chance at luck.

        You gotta be in it to win it; as the saying goes. Lot of people think my girlfriend is lucky, nope, she just enters a lot of competitions. Likewise the successful startup of businesses depend on the same kind of principle. There are very few people in the world who have a roaring success with their first business venture.

        Note the key word was "first". A lot of successful people are those who've tried and tried again.

    • I will never be in the position where 'luck' decides between me being bankrupt and being a billionaire. I just don't do the things that would allow me to get lucky in that way.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Luck... oh geeze this again.

      So lets assume you chances of becoming a billionaire in a random lucky winner lottery, as something like 1 in a billion.

      If we assume Elon Musk became a billionaire because he was "lucky" and won that 1 in a billion chance, then you also have to believe
      that he isn't just lucky, but inconceivably astronomically wtf-omg-bbq lucky.
      1. Created and sold a company (Zip2) for $307 million
      2. Create and sold a company (Paypal) for $1.5 billion
      3. Created SpaceX valued at several billion doll

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        There is more than JUST luck, but luck is required. Most start by being born on 3rd base and go from there. The key is that the more you already have (often due to luck), the less luck you need to go up from there. At some point, being well known for being successful gives you an effective re-do button.

        Nevertheless, in addition to a talent and a lot of work, Musk is OMFG lucky as well. Musk is one in about 6 billion people, someone had to get the lucky streak.

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )

          There is more than JUST luck, but luck is required.

          I don't see any evidence this is true. I know multimillionaires who didn't get any more or less lucky than average. The difference between them and me (definitely not a multimillionaire) is the spent their 20s and 30s living on someone's couch, working 20 hours a day, and failing over and over until they figured out what you need to do to start a successful business. Most successful businessmen have a few BKs under their belt, and it wouldn't have been s

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            So, look carefully around you. Know anyone who spent their 20s and 30s like that who isn't a millionaire? You probably do.

      • by ranton ( 36917 )

        So if luck is one of the key factors that make people successful, Elon Musk has proven statistics and probability are a completely broken field.

        Elon Musk is currently worth about $12 billion. There are about 100 people in the world with a net worth that high. Elon Musk may be more diversified in his businesses than most billionaires, but he is not unique.

        And no one is saying it only takes luck to be successful, just that luck is a key factor. Perhaps even the most important factor in becoming a billionaire. That can't be said for becoming a millionaire, which almost anyone can do with just hard work and almost no luck (other than perhaps being born

        • I approve of what Elon Musk has done with his wealth.

          I cannot say that for the vast majority of billionaires, and I could say the same of millionaires. My question is what do you think he should do? If you cannot come up with a better answer than he actually invested in...

  • I pity rose other people living in the worst timeline, without Teslas, affordable battery packs or Dragon spacecraft. Suddenly I feel lucky.
    • > affordable battery packs

      Not yet they aren't.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I pity rose other people living in the worst timeline, without Teslas, affordable battery packs or Dragon spacecraft. Suddenly I feel lucky.

      Nah, for all you know there is a timeline where that didn't happen but we've already been living on Mars since the late-80's.

  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Friday May 15, 2015 @10:46AM (#49697717)
    If musk wanted to make billions off spaceX he should have been sending cats to mars. Because paid access to video feed of cats doing low grav antics would break the internet and his bank account.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's phase2, phase1 is just getting the cat food up there

    • by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Friday May 15, 2015 @11:30AM (#49698021)
      Ground control to major Tom...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If musk wanted to make billions off spaceX he should have been sending cats to mars. Because paid access to video feed of cats doing low grav antics would break the internet and his bank account.

      You jest but if the ISS had a cat resident that would dramatically increase support for NASA. It would have scientific value too - assuming the cat could adapt there's an alternative mammal physiology in 0G, astronaut psychological effects and experiments of all sorts.

  • He captured Throttle, Modo and Vinnie, and is sending them back home...

  • Sorry, this postmodern English grates on my nerves.

  • How did we all know it would be the mice on Mars that would attract the most attention?
  • by tool462 ( 677306 ) on Friday May 15, 2015 @11:32AM (#49698047)

    "I could either pick SpaceX or Tesla or split the money I had left between them. That was a tough decision. If I split the money, maybe both of them would die. If I gave the money to just one company, the probability of it surviving was greater, but then it would mean certain death for the other company."

    I go through the same mental calculus every morning as my kids eat a week's worth of food in one breakfast.

    • by xeno ( 2667 )

      Oh, holy shit yes, THIS.
      Having just dropped off dragon #2 at his educational containment unit, I have just a few hours to restock the feed lots before the return of #1 early this afternoon. I do not know how long I can keep this up; perhaps they will just eat my remains.

  • The company won a $1.6 billion contract for 12 NASA resupply flights to the space station.

    I assume those went of without a hitch later that day and he was somehow able to get the invoice submitted and paid on the same day, a true miracle for a government agency.

    • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

      Probably not, but it would most likely be sufficient to get your bank to extend you an overdraft facility to cover any short term cash flow problems you might be experiencing.

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