#13 Elon Musk and Why SpaceX Will Colonize Mars



In the third installment of the Elon Musk blog series on the Founders Podcast, hosts delve into Tim Urban's expansive post about SpaceX's mission to colonize Mars. They discuss the historical context of human curiosity about the cosmos and the stark realization of our insignificance in the vast universe. The hosts touch on the decline of the US space program and the emergence of SpaceX as an innovative force aiming to drastically reduce the cost of space travel. They highlight Elon Musk's reasoning from first principles, his commitment to vertical integration, and the company's strategic plan, which includes making space travel accessible and inspiring humanity. The hosts also mention Musk's dual motivations for colonizing Mars: ensuring the survival of the human species and igniting a collective adventure that instills pride in our civilization.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the Elon Musk Blog Series by Wayboat Y

  • The podcast is part of a series discussing Elon Musk and his ventures.
  • The series is based on a blog post by Tim Urban, founder of Wait But Why.
  • The post is about SpaceX's mission to colonize Mars.
  • The blog post is lengthy, taking approximately 7.5 hours to read in total, with the SpaceX section taking about 2.5 to 3 hours.
  • The podcast hosts will focus on key interesting parts rather than reading the entire post.

"We made it to part three of the Elon Musk blog series by wayboat y."

"So today I want to talk to you about the post that's called how and why SpaceX will colonize Mars."

These quotes introduce the topic of the podcast, which is the analysis of a blog post about SpaceX's plans to colonize Mars as part of a larger series on Elon Musk.

Tim Urban's Writing Style and Approach

  • Tim Urban starts at a foundational level and builds up to complex ideas.
  • The hosts extract excerpts from the blog post and arrange them in a coherent manner.
  • For the full story, readers are encouraged to read the blog post on Wait But Why's website or purchase the Kindle version.

"The way Tim Urban, who's the founder of y the way he writes...is so he starts at a foundational level and builds from there, does a really good job of introducing you slowly."

This quote highlights Tim Urban's methodical approach to explaining complex topics, which is pertinent to understanding the structure of the blog post being discussed.

Setting Up the Scene

  • The blog post begins with a historical perspective on humanity's quest for knowledge about the universe.
  • It discusses the realization that Earth is not the center of the universe and the existential implications of our cosmic insignificance.
  • The blog post uses visuals to enhance the reader's understanding of our place in the cosmos.

"Emerging from a 3.6 billion year dream, life on Earth had its first questions... That's our situation."

This quote encapsulates the blog post's introductory narrative, which sets the stage for discussing humanity's exploration of space and the drive to colonize Mars.

The Space Race and Current Space Program

  • The podcast discusses the history of the space race, including the Apollo moonwalks and the stagnation of human space exploration since then.
  • It highlights the retirement of the space shuttle program and the current reliance on Russian rockets for American astronauts to reach the ISS.
  • The hosts discuss Tim Urban's illustrative comparison of the past and present capabilities of the US space program.

"The final Apollo moonwalk took place in late 1972... the number of people to set foot on the moon would still be twelve."

This quote provides context for the discussion on the decline of the US space program and the current state of human space exploration.

The Space Industry and SpaceX's Role

  • The podcast notes the importance of satellites in modern life and the growth of the satellite market.
  • SpaceX is described as an innovation machine aiming to reduce the cost of space travel.
  • The hosts draw parallels between SpaceX's strategies and those used by Tesla.

"The total market for satellite manufacturing... has ballooned from $60 billion in 2004 to over $200 billion in 2015."

This quote is used to illustrate the rapid growth of the space industry, which is relevant to understanding the market that SpaceX operates in.

Musk's Mission to Colonize Mars

  • Elon Musk's goal is to establish a self-sustaining population of 1 million people on Mars.
  • The podcast includes quotes from Stephen Hawking and other experts on the necessity of becoming a multiplanetary species for humanity's long-term survival.
  • The hosts discuss the reasons for colonizing Mars, including the "backup hard drive" analogy and the philosophical implications for living a good life.

"Like the rest of us, Elon Musk has a handful of life goals, unlike the rest of us, one of those life goals is to put 1 million people on Mars."

This quote introduces Elon Musk's ambitious goal for Mars colonization, which is central to the discussion on SpaceX's mission and strategies.

Conclusion and Philosophical Implications

  • The podcast concludes with thoughts on the existential and philosophical reasons for space colonization.
  • The hosts reflect on the similarities between SpaceX and Tesla's strategies, emphasizing the shared vision of Elon Musk.
  • The podcast hints at a second important reason for colonizing Mars that will be explored at the end of the series.

"But his second reason, also, I think, could be applied to just adapting it for a good philosophy on how to live a good life."

This quote suggests that there is more to Musk's drive to colonize Mars than just survival, hinting at broader philosophical motivations that will be elaborated on later in the series.

Space Program Necessity

  • Elon Musk is concerned about the Fermi paradox and the lack of evidence of alien life.
  • Musk suggests that many one-planet civilizations may have died out.
  • He believes humanity must become a multiplanetary species to improve our survival odds.

"What worries Musk the most is the Fermi paradox. The curious fact that we've never seen any evidence of alien life makes him suspect that there are lots of one planet dead civilizations out there."

This quote highlights Musk's concern about the Fermi paradox and the potential for civilizations to become extinct if confined to a single planet.

Public Perception of Space Exploration

  • Musk's ideas may seem logical to those familiar with space exploration, but the general public might scoff at them.
  • There is a disconnect between the importance of space exploration and public interest due to urban living and light pollution.
  • Musk's experience seeing the Milky Way in Argentina was profound and changed his perspective on space.

"So I think when you start saying, hey, it's very logical that if, for whatever reason, we live on a planet where 99.99% of all living species has already gone extinct, we're living in a universe where there's probably lots of one planet dead civilizations out there. So therefore, if we want to avoid the most common outcome, we need to do something."

This quote reflects the argument for becoming a multiplanetary species as a logical step for the survival of humanity, given the history of extinction on Earth.

Historical Perspective on Space and Technology

  • For most of human history, people could clearly see the night sky, but modern light pollution has obscured this.
  • Technological advancements have paradoxically distanced us from direct experience of space.
  • Musk's feelings about space were amplified by seeing the Milky Way without light pollution.

"And then as technology increases, and now we have electricity, we have cities, we have all this other stuff, it's weird. Now we have the ability to travel in space, but we can't see space all the time."

This quote discusses the irony of technological progress that enables space travel but also reduces our everyday connection to the cosmos.

Musk's Early Interest in Space

  • Musk was interested in space after PayPal but didn't initially see a personal role in it.
  • He was surprised to find no plans for Mars missions on NASA's website.
  • Musk decided to contribute by proposing a mission to grow a plant on Mars.

"I said, well, I'd always been really interested in space, but I didn't think that there was anything I could do as an individual."

This quote shows Musk's initial hesitation to enter the space industry due to perceived barriers for individual contributions.

Mars Oasis and SpaceX Origin

  • Musk's Mars Oasis plan aimed to inspire public interest in space and increase NASA's budget.
  • After failing to purchase rockets from Russia, Musk decided to build rockets himself.
  • Musk's goal is to put 1 million people on Mars to ensure a self-sustaining human colony.

"But in Russia, a used rocket would be a fraction of the price. So off to Russia went to negotiate the purchase of three refurbished intercontinental ballistic missiles."

This quote explains Musk's initial attempt to purchase affordable rockets for his Mars Oasis project, which led to the founding of SpaceX when the deal fell through.

SpaceX Business Plan

  • SpaceX's business model involves using R&D operations as a profitable space delivery service.
  • The plan includes reducing space travel costs and funding Mars colonization through passenger tickets.
  • SpaceX's phases: put things into space, reduce costs, and colonize Mars with a self-sustaining population.

"And phase three, colonize Mars. Get a ticket to Mars down to $500,000 per person. Continue ongoing Mars colonization, eventually reach 1 million people."

This quote outlines the ultimate goal of SpaceX's business plan, which is to make Mars colonization affordable and sustainable.

Learning Rocket Science

  • Musk self-educated in rocket science by reading textbooks and memorizing their content.
  • He brought together a team to study the feasibility of building rockets more efficiently.
  • Musk's approach was unconventional but driven by his commitment to space exploration.

"He read some stuff. He read books like rocket Propulsion elements and aero thermodynamics of gas turbine and rocket propulsion, and he basically memorized all of them."

This quote demonstrates Musk's autodidactic approach to learning rocket science, which laid the groundwork for SpaceX's technical achievements.

Jim Cantrell's Observations of Elon Musk

  • Jim Cantrell, a rocket expert, observed Musk's meticulous learning process.
  • Musk would quote passages verbatim from rocketry books and was very conversant in the material.
  • Musk hired many experts in the rocket and spacecraft industry to consult with him.
  • Cantrell describes Musk as the smartest person he has ever worked with.

"He would quote passages verbatim from these books. He became very conversant in the material."

This quote highlights Musk's method of learning and his ability to recall information accurately, indicating a deep understanding of the subject matter.

"Musk hired as many of my colleagues in the rocket and spacecraft business that were willing to consult."

The quote explains Musk's strategy of surrounding himself with industry experts to gain knowledge and expertise in the field of rocketry.

Musk's Pursuit of Space Exploration

  • Musk's friends were concerned about his decision to invest in building a space launch company.
  • Despite the risks, Musk was determined to make human life multi-planetary.
  • A friend tried to dissuade Musk by showing him a montage of rocket failures, but Musk remained unfazed.

"Wouldn't you be? Imagine if your friend made a huge amount of money selling an Internet business and then told you he was going to spend almost all of it trying to become the first entrepreneur to succeed at building a space launch company because it was important that human life became multi-planetary."

This quote reflects the skepticism and concern that Musk's friends had regarding his ambitious space exploration goals, showing the perceived riskiness of his venture.

Musk's Philosophy on Business

  • Musk has a unique perspective on business, viewing it as a group of people pursuing a goal rather than a traditional business entity.
  • This philosophy challenges conventional views on work and the purpose of a company.

"All a company is is a bunch of people working together to create a product or service. There's no such thing as a business, just a pursuit of a goal. A group of people pursuing a goal."

This quote encapsulates Musk's fundamental view of what a business is, emphasizing the collective effort towards a shared objective rather than focusing on the business as a financial entity.

Founding of SpaceX

  • Musk began assembling a team of smart individuals to start SpaceX.
  • Early hiring policies at SpaceX included no tolerance for negative attitudes and hiring based on raw talent rather than educational credentials.
  • Mark Jankosa, VP of vehicle engineering at SpaceX, exemplifies the company's hiring philosophy, having been a poor student with a talent for race car engineering.

"The smartest people could find, and SpaceX was born."

This quote summarizes the inception of SpaceX, which was built on the foundation of recruiting intelligent and talented individuals.

Musk's Interview Process

  • Musk personally interviewed every employee, including janitors, and had an unconventional interviewing style.
  • The interview process at SpaceX could be disconcerting but was part of Musk's unique approach to assessing potential hires.

"Musk interviews everyone, including janitors, and does so like a weirdo."

This quote describes Musk's thorough and unorthodox interview process, highlighting his hands-on approach to hiring.

Vertical Integration at SpaceX

  • SpaceX is highly vertically integrated, controlling most of the supply chain.
  • This approach is unusual in the aerospace industry and allows for greater quality control and cost reduction.
  • Vertical integration is a strategy also used by historical industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford, and modern companies like Apple.

"The factory is a temple devoted to what SpaceX sees as its major weapon in the rocket building game. In-house manufacturing."

This quote explains SpaceX's dedication to vertical integration and in-house manufacturing as a core strategy for success in the aerospace industry.

Musk's Involvement in SpaceX

  • Musk is described as a "nanomanager," deeply involved in all aspects of his companies.
  • His understanding of physics, engineering, and his ability to retain information allows him to control various processes within SpaceX.

"I know my rocket inside and out and backward. I can tell you the heat treating temper of the skin material, where it changes, and why we chose that material. The welding technique down to the nats ass."

This quote demonstrates Musk's detailed knowledge of SpaceX's rockets, indicating his hands-on approach and deep technical understanding.

Cost Reduction in the Space Industry

  • Musk addresses the high costs in the aerospace industry, attributing it to risk aversion and lack of vertical integration among large companies.
  • SpaceX's vertical integration and avoidance of subcontractors contribute to its ability to offer lower costs for space launches.
  • The comparison between SpaceX's launch costs and those of established aerospace companies like the ULA highlights the efficiency of SpaceX's approach.

"You have to go four or five layers down to find somebody actually doing something useful, actually cutting metal, shaping atoms."

This quote criticizes the inefficiency of subcontracting in the aerospace industry, which Musk believes contributes to inflated costs.

First Principles Thinking

  • SpaceX was able to design the Falcon 1 rocket from scratch due to its blank slate approach and first principles thinking.
  • This mindset allows for innovation and avoids being trapped by historical practices within the industry.

"Without the baggage of a huge company with a long history, SpaceX was able to design and develop the Falcon 1 from the ground up."

The quote emphasizes the advantage of starting with a fresh perspective, unencumbered by legacy processes, which is a recurring theme in Musk's approach to business and innovation.

Rocket Material Costs and Industry Pricing Discrepancies

  • The material cost of a rocket is only around 2% of its typical price on the market.
  • This is an unusually high markup for a large mechanical product.
  • The potential exists to create a much cheaper rocket based on the raw material costs.

and carbon fiber. And then I asked, what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the material cost of a rocket was around 2% of the typical price, which is a crazy ratio for a large mechanical product. So I thought we should be able to make a much cheaper rocket, given those material costs.

This quote highlights the significant gap between the cost of raw materials for rockets and their market price, suggesting the possibility of producing more cost-effective rockets.

Tesla’s Battery Cost Analysis

  • Tesla's batteries are made from materials that are far cheaper on the commodity market than their final cost.
  • Elon Musk identified the opportunity to reduce costs by reordering the components himself.

And again, the reason I say that there's so much, when you drill down into Tesla and SpaceX that echo one another, if you remember, he talks about batteries. He's like, well, what are batteries made out of? And it wind up being something. I forgot the exact percentage, but if you could just buy the same components of the batteries on the commodity market, it was like 70% of the cost. So he's like, all right, well, I just got to figure out a way to arrange them in an order, and.

This quote draws a parallel between the cost-saving strategies of SpaceX and Tesla, with a focus on the battery costs of Tesla vehicles.

The Philosophical and Practical Reasons for Colonizing Mars

  • Elon Musk has two primary reasons for colonizing Mars: a defensive reason and an adventure reason.
  • The defensive reason is likened to backing up data to prevent loss, applied to human consciousness and species survival.
  • The adventure reason relates to the collective excitement and inspiration drawn from space exploration.

So let's end here. Why go to Mars? And there are two major reasons now actually back up before I even jump into this. Now, remember probably 30 minutes ago or so, now, I was saying that I think his second reason is, again, not using the word more important, but I think it's an important philosophy that I think even taken out of the context of SpaceX and everything else he's doing, that if you just applied it to your own life, that I think it's.

This quote introduces the two major reasons behind Elon Musk's push for Mars colonization and hints at a broader philosophical significance.

The Impact of Space Exploration on Humanity

  • Space exploration missions like Apollo have historically united humanity and provided inspiration.
  • Musk believes that life should be about more than solving problems; it should include things that inspire and make people proud.
  • The adventure of going to Mars is expected to have a similar unifying and inspirational effect on people today.

Life has to be more than about solving problems. There have to be things that inspire you, that make you proud to be a member of humanity. The Apollo program is certainly an example of that. Only a handful of people went to the moon, and yet, actually, we all went to the moon. We went with them vicariously. We shared in that adventure. I don't think anyone would say that that was a bad idea, that that wasn't great. We need more of those things. At least we need some of those things.

The quote emphasizes the importance of inspirational endeavors, such as the Apollo moon landings, in contributing to a sense of shared human achievement and pride.

Supporting Founders Podcast

  • Listeners can support Founders Podcast by leaving a five-star review on Apple Podcasts.
  • Subscribing to Founders on Patreon offers access to premium episodes and early releases.
  • Purchasing books through the Founders Podcast's Amazon link and signing up for Audible or Blinkist trials provides additional support.

I want to talk to you in case you're interested, how you can support founders if you like what I'm doing here.

This quote introduces the various ways listeners can support the Founders Podcast, emphasizing the value of audience engagement and financial backing for the show's continuation and growth.

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