'Much of the sourness towards figures like SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Bill Gates is just jealousy'
Garry Moore, the managing director of Bishop's Stortford IT firm Genmar, writes for the Indie...
Last month I wrote about cryptocurrencies and the volatility and popularity of this new market. On February 8, Tesla, one of Elon Musk's companies, invested $1.5 billion in the most popular currency, Bitcoin. This, coupled with a few posts on social media, helped push the price up by about 20% and influenced more interest, allowing Bitcoin to increase by over 50% over the month.
As usual, this provoked both positive and negative responses from 'experts' and the public alike. It seems it is human nature to abuse the super-rich and powerful, regardless of what they do with their money, whether it is altruistic like Bill Gates and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or investing in huge tech projects like Mr Musk.
Much of the sourness is down to good old jealousy but, with apps like Facebook and Twitter allowing rumourmongers to promote all sorts of odd conspiracies, many people are unaware of what is being accomplished.
Take Bill and Melinda. Bill dropped out of university and co-founded Microsoft in his garage, making him one of the pioneers of the computer revolution, amassing a huge fortune and becoming the richest person in the world for some years. He passed the reins to others in 2000 and, along with his wife Melinda, started the largest charity in the world with over $45 billion in assets - $36 billion donated by themselves.
The foundation attempts to apply business techniques to resolve long-standing issues and "reduce inequities and improve lives around the world". It purports to operate completely transparently by publishing all data and research and has invested in everything from infectious disease control to agriculture development. The creation of GAVI for vaccines and the Global Fund for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is said to be the main reason infant mortality death rates in the developing world have dropped by half, saving over 100 million lives.
Elon Musk was born in apartheid South Africa before moving to Canada and then to the USA to study economics. As a geeky kid he found solace in programming, so the draw of the then burgeoning Silicon Valley was an obvious choice. After a couple of internships, he founded the software company Zip2 – a city guide that soon attracted some large contracts and prompted the buyout by Compaq for $307 million in 1999, with Musk receiving $22m.
The same year he started the email payment company X.com. This merged with a new money transfer service called PayPal and sold in 2002 for $1.5 billion, with Musk's share over $100 million.
Again in the same year, he started SpaceX with a view to reawakening the public interest in space travel by travelling to Mars and building a greenhouse to grow crops. I remember reading about this at the time and thinking 'another oddball who thinks he can do the impossible just because he got lucky with the tech boom. Get a rocket into space by throwing a lot of money at it, maybe. Getting to Mars and building things that the combined resources of NASA and the Russians have not achieved even on the moon is a little far fetched'.
Musk tried to buy a few ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) from the Russians with a view to converting them into spaceships. The Russians initially thought him mad, with one of their chief designers reportedly spitting on him. A year later they offered him one for $8 million - he refused and decided to build his own, investing $100 million.
Six years and three failed attempts later, SpaceX succeeded in launching Falcon1, the first private liquid-fuelled rocket to reach Earth's orbit. Later that year SpaceX won a $1.6 billion contract to replace the Space Shuttle and resupply the International Space Station. Three years later, the Falcon9 docked with the ISS. Then, as part of his drive to develop reusable rockets, we saw the successful landing of a Falcon9. As of February this year, SpaceX has launched 21 cargo resupply missions to the ISS.
In 2016, Musk unveiled Starship to develop interplanetary spaceflight, the largest rocket ever seen. Designed to be reusable, so far, although successfully launched, SN8 and 9 both failed catastrophically on landing, exploding on contact due to a rocket not firing to reduce landing speed. If you have five minutes, take a look at www.spacex.com/vehicles/starship/. SpaceX called this an RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly), a euphemism popular in the military and aerospace fields used in place of "it blew up". At over $55 million each, these are expensive lessons. Unperturbed, SN10 (you can see sitting on the platform next to SC9) is ready to test and Musk expected to launch before the end of February.
Alongside this, in 2015, Musk started Starlink, a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites to provide internet access. As of January this year, Starlink has launched over 1,000 satellites and the high-speed broadband it provides is already available to limited customers in the USA with more satellites being launched monthly (30,000 in total). The service will be available globally in the near future, offering low-cost, quality internet access. To put this in perspective, in the UK high-speed internet access is still unavailable to many outside high-density areas despite BT being beaten over the head for over 20 years. Yet one man with a vision has provided a global alternative from concept to application in less than five years.
Having some spare time on his hands, Musk joined the board of the not-long-established Tesla Motors as chairman in 2004. By 2008 he had ousted one of the founders and assumed leadership as both the CEO and product architect. The same year it produced the first serial production all-electric car. When the Model 3 launched in 2017 it soon became the world's best-selling electric car. Unbelievably, as of late 2020, Tesla is more valuable than the next six largest automakers combined!
In 2016, Musk founded Nuralink, a start-up company with a view to integrating the human brain with AI. Successful Nuralink implants were demonstrated in pigs in 2020. Although decried as "highly speculative and neuroscience theatre" by some experts, his previous successes do make you think anything is possible.
Initially a division of SpaceX, Musk setup The Boring Company in 2018, a tunnel construction and infrastructure services company. Musk believes the only way forward with traffic congestion is to go underground. He has developed technology to reduce costs and time, the two main factors cited as reasons not to tunnel. Starting with a standard tunnelling machine called Godot, he has now built Prufrock, a 100% purpose-built machine capable of speeds up to 15 times faster than traditional machines. It is also designed to launch directly from the surface and there is even talk of the waste being used to make bricks to offset costs. Test tunnels have been built and many projects are on the table.
Obviously these people ignite a lot of controversy, some may say unwarranted, but there is sufficient evidence to show a disregard for the status quo and both have issues with monopolies and a lack of respect for governmental regulations. Even so there is no doubting their impact on the way we live and, for me, it will be very interesting to see what they come up with next. Makes me feel very lazy.
To find out more about Genmar, which is based at Unit 12, The Links Business Centre, Raynham Road Industrial Estate, Bishop’s Stortford, visit genmar.co.uk.