Boeing vs. SpaceX? Hmm.
In the Mel Brooks film, “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, there’s an amusing scene wherein the Sheriff of Rottingham challenges Robin Hood to a duel after he and his men crash Prince John’s party. After uttering the challenge, the Sheriff proceeds to slap Robin across the face with his metro-sleek leather glove. In response, Robin picks up a heavy, metal-armored knight glove and whacks him across the face to accept.
Not a perfect metaphor, but close enough for our purposes. Credit: Web Summit, with clip art addition and filters.
I guess you see where I’m going with this. Now that I’ve introduced the topic visually…
Boeing Brings Out the (Leather) Mars Glove
When I saw headlines claiming that Boeing would “beat” SpaceX to Mars, I had two thoughts:
I definitely understand the need for competition to drive innovation among the general human population. I also certainly understand that it was the “space race” against the Soviets that took us to the moon, so overstating a competition is more PR move than reality; however, given the non-aggressive nature Elon has taken towards developing the technology to get us to the elusive red planet (i.e., more focused on getting us there than saying much about the competition), I was expecting to have missed something from SpaceX judging by the sudden grandiose claims. Did I overlook a Google Alert on something Elon said that caused Boeing to bite back?
Er, okay. Maybe Elon’s prior non-complimentary remarks on Boeing’s approach to surface landing wasn’t given or received in the most cooperative spirit. Technology designers are allowed to disagree, right? I’m sure the comment only helped fuel the fires of speculation. That, along with the fact that we are a tabloid-minded species that likes to understand the world through the lens of “us vs. them”, and we see boxing-style headlines on the Mars missions rather than the shoulder shrug, head-nod variety of mutual goal pursuit.
Alternatively, the Boeing step-up could have just been a result of their new guy (CEO/Chairman/President) at the helm. Along with an engineering background and having spent his entire career at Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg actually has some spunk. He seems like a cool dude, pretty inspired by Boeing’s history, confident in its future, and quite honestly, I wish he would don a long-haired wig and give us a Zaphod Beeblebrox number for Halloween. Seriously. Watch his recent AtlanticLIVE interview, and then watch Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005). You’ll see what I mean (at 1:51 specifically). That’s got to be a winning combination, no?
[P.S. I am in no way implying that you are not allowed to have a full brain to be the head of Boeing.]
Elon Has Already “Won” Mars
In terms of accomplishment (and his own standards), Elon has already done what he set out to do with SpaceX originally. With an anticipated success rate of “less than 10%” for the company, he was already okay with the company closing up shop after a good try in the hopes that someone else would “pick up the baton”. Getting a 100-year old curmudgeon tech company on the bandwagon for interplanetary travel? That’s a “win” right there if I’ve ever seen one.
The best part about all of this Mars chatter? It’s officially moved into the zone of potential realities. Where Mars habitation was only the stuff of science fiction in the past, now “…success is one of the possible outcomes,” to quote Elon’s exact words.
Considering all the considerables (including Elon’s own mention of multiple companies heading for Mars being a good thing), there really isn’t a big race for Boeing to chomp at here. Whether SpaceX is first with Falcon Heavy or Boeing gets there with its Space Launch System, everybody wins. #teamHuman
Of course, I think having coffee shops and movie theaters for the journey is way more awesome than an oversized capsule, but until I have some $200k in pocket cash for a ticket, that’s none of my business.
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