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The Almighty Buck Businesses Space Science Technology

The Billionaires' Space Club 235

theodp writes Silicon sultans are the new robber barons, writes The Economist, adding that "they have been diversifying into businesses that have little to do with computers, while egotistically proclaiming that they alone can solve mankind's problems, from aging to space travel." Over at Slate, NYU journalism prof Charles Seife is less-than impressed with The Billionaires' Space Club. "It's an old trick," begins Seife. "Multimillionaires regularly try to spin acts of crass ego gratification as selfless philanthropy, no matter how obviously self-serving. They jump out of balloons at the edge of the atmosphere, take submarines to the bottom of the ocean, or shoot endangered animals on safari, all in the name of science and exploration. The more recent trend is billionaires making fleets of rocket ships for private space exploration. What makes this one different is that the public actually seems to buy the farce." Seife goes on to argue that "neither [Elon] Musk's nor [Richard] Branson's goals really seem to break new ground, despite all the talk of exploration."
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The Billionaires' Space Club

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  • by Bodhammer ( 559311 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:02PM (#48708931)
    They all want to be D. D. Harriman - "The Man Who Sold the Moon".

    The one who figures out asteroid mining is going to be the real winner!
    • by mi ( 197448 )

      The one who figures out asteroid mining is going to be the real winner!

      And I for one will applaud him the way Heinlein would've done — not call him a "robber"...

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Yeah, right up until the corporate bonus boosting short cut sends an asteroid crashing into the earth instead of putting it in orbit. The brutal reality is by far the majority of get super rich schemes burn up, the rapid rise burning up on re-entry as it crashes back to earth. I trust corporations a whole lot less in fact an order of magnitude less than the government. In fact the main reason not to trust government currently relates directly to the corporate ownership of government.

  • Do I buy it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:06PM (#48708949) Homepage Journal

    I'm well aware of fake "philanthropy". Some of the more respectable philanthropy even fails. Supposing that some billionaire actually funds the lab that finds the cure for cancer - he has bought and paid for his brand of immortality. The world doesn't need or want any more pyramids, so cancer will do the trick.

    All the same - if enough people are competing to accomplish something is space, SOMEONE is going to succeed.

    Yeah, I buy it. Hell, I'd work for little more than a pretty meager wage if I could be reasonably sure of ACCOMPLISHING something meaningful in space.

    • Re:Do I buy it? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Livius ( 318358 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:33PM (#48709099)

      This is exactly why The Economist is over-stating the argument. Anonymous charity is a goal of many religions, but self-promoting charity is better than no charity at all. If the philanthropy achieves its charitable goal, then it doesn't matter if it's self-serving, and one could argue that the wealthy patron has honestly earned the fame and recognition that they receive. If it does not achieve its goal, or does so inefficiently, then the public is not likely to be fooled.

      • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @10:59PM (#48709459) Journal

        If [self-serviing private philanthropy] does not achieve its goal, or does so inefficiently, then the public is not likely to be fooled.

        If self-serving private philanthropy does not achieve it' goal, nobody is harmed except the self-serving private philanthropist.

        If PUBLIC philanthropy does not achieve its goal, the general population has been looted and received no benefit in return.

        • If PUBLIC philanthropy does not achieve its goal, the general population has been looted and received no benefit in return.

          That's a pretty broad brush. What exactly is your definition of "public" philanthropy? And how do you define its success or failure?

        • If public philanthropy is denied on the premise that private philanthropy is superior, then the public has been defrauded.

    • Re:Do I buy it? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:33PM (#48709103)

      What's especially weird about this article is that neither Branson nor Musk have ever said that their space ventures are anything other than a method of making them a bunch of profit...

      • Re:Do I buy it? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by the gnat ( 153162 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:47PM (#48709177)

        neither Branson nor Musk have ever said that their space ventures are anything other than a method of making them a bunch of profit

        Musk has repeatedly stated that he wants to retire on Mars, and making orbital launches affordable is a first step towards that. It sounds a little nutty, but I wish him the best of luck anyway. If he succeeds, we should all benefit in the long term; if he only makes a fool of himself, at least he's not doing it with my money.

      • Re:Do I buy it? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @10:22PM (#48709327)

        What's especially weird about this article is that neither Branson nor Musk have ever said that their space ventures are anything other than a method of making them a bunch of profit...

        Nor have they "egotistically proclaim[ed] that they alone can solve mankind's problems, from aging to space travel." Nor "all the talk of exploration." Nor "shoot endangered animals on safari".

        Seriously, the guy is nothing but a walking strawman.

        There's plenty of things you can criticise the "PayPal mafia" and NewSpace over, especially Thiel and Branson respectively, but nothing that the Professor is going on about even comes close to a valid criticism. (Or even something that has anything to do with reality.) It's bizarre that someone would say it, but crazy that a major newspaper would actually publish it.

        "The more recent trend is billionaires making fleets of rocket ships"

        A) "recently", for something that's over a decade old, suggests that he's only just heard about it and because he only just heard about it, thinks it's new.

        B) "fleets of rocket ships" is how a child would see it. Suggesting the guy is not only ignorant, but is surrounded by ignorant people.

        "neither [Elon] Musk's nor [Richard] Branson's goals really seem to break new ground"

        VG won't be doing anything special, (although even a private sub-orbital system is new; nothing like SS2 exists. X-15 with passengers and open space.)

        But Musk already has the cheapest launcher on the market (perhaps ignoring a few micro-launchers), is about to develop fly-back first stage (something the industry has been wishing for since the early sixties), and is developing a private manned capsule, and is developing a heavy lift launcher that costs less than any other medium-lift launcher on the market even if they doesn't achieve reusability, and he's working with NASA to develop a Saturn V F1-class engine for a Saturn V class launcher, and he wants to go to Mars.

        Not breaking new ground? What the fuck does this idiot want from them, a warp drive?

      • Musk has been clearly stating that one of his long term goals is exploration and colonization of Mars. As an example: Elon Musk: The Case for Mars [youtube.com]. That mission statement is written right into SpaceX documentation: About SpaceX [spacex.com]
    • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:37PM (#48709123) Homepage Journal

      The world doesn't need or want any more pyramids, so cancer will do the trick.

      It sound like you are disapproving... Will you refuse any treatment developed with a "silicon sultan's" money — because the benefactor's purpose was not sufficiently pure in your opinion?

      Will you demand, the laboratories be staffed by people of all races and genders, and that any developed drugs be manufactured by unionized workers and/or be "Fair Trade" certified — before you agree to accept the cure?

      Will you reject it, because "not everyone" can afford it — or will you, perhaps, wish, such "unfair" drug was never developed in the first place?

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Or the alternative, nobody's going to succeed. That happens often enough as rich people want to live forever, well so far that's not for sale. if I got the choice between dying myself or two of my organ transplants saving lives, I'd choose living. Doesn't matter if a thousand or a million or a billion lives would live without me, you've no moral right to ask me to sacrifice my life.

      • I could hate you for bringing me back to reality. But, you're right. The ultimate goal, is to get mankind out there among the stars. And - that may never happen. Every attempt may fail. We MAY not even establish any self sustaining colonies here in the solar system. But, I sure as hell don't want to accept that idea as likely. I suppose you've seen this little video?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

        That's the short take from a longer video, which is somewhat less "exciting" I guess the term might be.

    • by Optali ( 809880 )

      And we can all recall Howard Hughes, a billionaire as eccentric and any and who actually produced quite a bunch of breaking tech.

      These guys do have a lot of money, and they can just go and invest a part of it in something they fancy, even if it doesn't make sense. If it does, they will have hit the jackpot as Hughes did, of not, well, they had their fun.

      I don't understand all this bitching: They have the funds and they do what they want with it, right? It's always better than investing in churches and / or

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:07PM (#48708963) Homepage Journal

    not gonna bother clicking any of the links. This guy is either incredibly ignorant and been living under a rock for the past few years, or his 401k is heavily vested in defense contractors. SpaceX is shaking the space launch industry to the very foundations and turning everything upside down. SpaceX is already cheaper than them (by a lot), but if the R program succeeds (we'll know in a few days), basically Elon will wipe out ULA and Ariannespace and there will be nothing left of them except for a few crumbs thrown at them by their buddies in government.

    • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horningNO@SPAMnetzero.net> on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:20PM (#48709037) Homepage Journal

      Ariannespace already treats SpaceX as a credible threat and is making significant changes to their next generation Ariane launch vehicle specifically to go in a direct competition with the Falcon 9. I don't know if they are going to succeed in being able to drop launch costs below $1k/kg like Elon Musk seems to be striving for, but they sure want to stay in the game and try to at least maintain market share against SpaceX and the stream of steady launch contracts that are now going to America that used to not happen.

      SpaceX is definitely winning more launch contracts than they are currently launching, so I expect that even an increased launch rate is going to be sustainable for that company into the near future. This is even without the reusable launchers that SpaceX is trying to develop as I consider that to be merely icing on the cake and a long term extra profit thing even if the upcoming launch pancakes the 1st stage after stage separation.

      ULA is merely trying to compete against SpaceX in the halls of Congress instead with lobbyists. I wonder how that will work out in the long run?

      • Are you sure there's any cake under that icing? As I recall the single-use launch vehicle accounts for 90-95% of the cost of a typical launch, SpaceX included. Make it reusable and you cut launch costs to around 1/10th to 1/20th of the current level. Even a single reuse would cut costs almost in half, a handful of reuses would bring the price down enough that it might start making sense to look at the cost-effectiveness of other aspects of the launch as well. Of course that's based on reusing both stages

        • you're absolutely right. Musk, et. al. have repeatedly said re-use is a necessary component for reaching the price point they're targeting. The big rockets they're planning for later (Mars Colony Transporter (MCT) aka Big Falcon Rocket (BFR)) would be untenable as a throw away. Imagine a rocket big enough to lift the entire ISS to orbit in 3-4 launches. Now, imagine doing that for fuel cost alone. That's where SpaceX is headed.
        • Even if you go out on a very pessimistic limb and assume that the best SpaceX will be able to achieve in next few years will be a Falcon Heavy version with the reuse of just side boosters (central core expended, no downrange landing) and without crossfeed, and that reusing those side boosters would only cut the costs by a factor of two to three (some serious inspection required, plus logistics), it turns out that you should still get a ~40 t to LEO/~15 t to GTO class launcher for something like 100M-$110M,
        • Why would I want to launch something in space just to bring it back. If it's not required to insure the survival of the crew I could make it significantly lighter and cheaper, and instead of all that extra weight that will just be coming back for another trip I could be sending up that much more payload. This re-usable rocket bullshit is what stalled the space programs over the past 40+ years.

          • You may not have noticed, but there hasn't been a single reusable non-STS launch vehicle yet - in fact, not even STS was properly reusable (SRBs corroded, ET burned up), so I'm not even sure it counts. And those "significantly lighter and cheaper" vehicles you called for and eventually ended up with are called Delta IV...hey, wait a minute! Those aren't actually cheap at all! Bummer.

            And why would you want to launch something in space just to bring it back? Because it's much cheaper than to build it again, o

          • by Teancum ( 67324 )

            SpaceX is making a profit off of their expendable rocket program.... and beating the Chinese Space Agency on a cost per kilogram into orbit even doing just that. Mind you, the main way that SpaceX is going to try to get launch prices cheaper is simply to reuse the first stage by flying it back to the launch pad... something that won't ever make the trip into space anyway. Most of the fuel that the stage will be firing is the reserve fuel that normally isn't used in a nominal flight but will be used in an

          • Do you understand why rockets use staging? Do you realize that the first stage (by far the heaviest and most expensive part of the rocket) does not go to space?

        • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horningNO@SPAMnetzero.net> on Thursday January 01, 2015 @02:25AM (#48710091) Homepage Journal

          I'm suggesting that some of the methods that SpaceX has employed to reduce costs of their rocket in terms of applying mass production techniques and treating the manufacturing of rockets more like how automobiles are manufactured on an assembly line has made a huge impact in terms of the cost of a launch. They are currently manufacturing more than a couple Merlin 1-D engines each week and plan to ramp up that production rate to even higher levels. They have also streamlined a number of things in the vehicle design to drop prices considerably including using consumer grade electronics instead of mil-spec equipment (using redundancy instead to achieve higher reliability) and several other innovations to really drop costs that haven't been used earlier.

          That is the cake I'm talking about which other companies haven't been able to achieve... for various reasons. The Merlin 1-D engines aren't the highest performing engines and definitely have some strong limitations, but they are very cheap to manufacture. The same goes for the body of the rocket and other parts too. The vertical integration of SpaceX has also helped in terms of keeping the supply chain tight and keeping costs under control.

          I also question how much actual savings will happen with reuse as there are definitely fixed costs that really limit how much it can reduce costs. 1st stage reuse at best only saves about half of the cost.... when done over the course of nearly 20-30 launches for amortization and assuming even low fixed costs. That still is useful and can make SpaceX very competitive, but it isn't nearly the earth shattering cost reduction that some are suggesting. SpaceX isn't even talking much any more about 2nd stage reuse, and all of the contracts using the Dragon spacecraft currently require a new capsule on every launch.

          In other words, SpaceX really can't be depending on reuse for profit and instead must depend on other ways to cut costs in order to survive as a company while charging so little to the end customers. Admittedly, SpaceX officials have quoted a price point of $7 million per launch of the Falcon 9 to deliver 10 metric tons to LEO as something they are aiming at (mentioned at a satellite conference in Indonesia last year with commentary by other launch providers simply saying SpaceX is quoting nonsense). That is about 1/10th of the price currently, but I would assume that includes more than just reuse savings.

      • Ariannespace already treats SpaceX as a credible threat and is making significant changes to their next generation Ariane launch vehicle specifically to go in a direct competition with the Falcon 9.

        The sad thing is that in 2020+, they'll have a launch vehicle somewhat competitive with the 2014's Falcon 9 v1.1. Unfortunately, without a time machine, such marginal progress would seem less than useful.

      • by Bo'Bob'O ( 95398 )

        Even space launch economics aside, the dragon spacecraft can return cargo to earth from LEO.

        This is a technology that only only a number of countries you can count on your fingers can do. Fewer still with anything actively doing it. Even if SpaceX stops developing tech tomorrow, it's still had an immediate impact the US and the world's ability to do research in space now and for years to come.

        • by Teancum ( 67324 )

          This is a technology that only only a number of countries you can count on your fingers can do.

          I think you can put that on a single digit. The Soyuz spacecraft can basically return the three member crew and essentially a postage stamp. Well, it is about a hundred pounds of extra baggage, but essentially nothing on a practical level. The Dragon spacecraft really is the only vehicle currently in active use that has this capability at all.

          Yes, Russia obviously has the capability and even flew the Buran spacecraft that had some capability of returning stuff from orbit. The Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft

    • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:24PM (#48709057) Journal

      I like the bit where running a space transport company with long term cargo, people and fuel transporting plans and goals, including but not limited to resupplying the ISS is equated with "shoot[ing] endangered animals on [a] safari".

      Why not just call Musk an apartheid-lovin fascist nazi-commie from South-WeHateBlackPeople-Africa?

      • by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @10:01PM (#48709239)

        Nope, once you run an Internet company, you're never allowed to be successful at anything else. It doesn't matter if you run a highly successful and profitable space transport company, that's just vanity and hubris. It doesn't even matter if you weren't a billionaire when you founded said space transport company, and that it was your post-dot-com companies such as said space transport company that made you a billionaire... you're now in the "billionaire robber baron space club".

      • We're talking about journalists here, not historians.

    • In addition to your excellent points, SpaceX made history by being the first private spacecraft to berth with the ISS. NASA and SpaceX have a very complementary collaboration schedule in place. The cost-competitiveness of SpaceX's programs will make for a long-term paradigm shift in space exploration and commercial ventures for the private sector.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:54PM (#48709211)
      I clicked a link. the billionaire who "shot endangered animals on safari" didn't shot any animals, and was armed only with a camera, and never gave the reason that it was in the name of "science" or anything else. So the summary is a lying troll. I agree that there's something else going on. Otherwise why lie so blatantly?
    • Yup I agree. It's true that a lot of billionaire philanthropists are full of it, but not all of them are.

      Musk has made a well-defined and significant contribution: Development of a cheap reusable rocket. This isn't some wishy-washy concept like "paradigm shift in how we interact with our technology" or "revolutionary new power source that could change the world if only people listened!" This is something that can be measured in pounds-force, tons to LEO, and gallons of LOX.

      • by Teancum ( 67324 )

        More important, what Elon Musk has provided for spaceflight is a huge reduction in cost that can be measured as dollars per kilogram to orbit. The Space Shuttle typically got somewhere in the range of about $20k-$40k/kg to LEO (depending on how you calculated the cost of launching a shuttle.... getting the order of magnitude on that number is dubious at best and no two independent sources give the same number). Typical in the launch industry is about $10k/kg as a general rule of thumb (if you can get chea

        • If the reusable rocket thing pans out, it's likely that that number will drop even further in the future.

  • Someone's mad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:08PM (#48708965)

    You can practically feel the envy radiating off him. "You can't be rich and a good person too, that's not fair!"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:10PM (#48708979)

    Maybe I just haven't seen it, but do they actually claim this? Sources? I've always thought of these things as rich peoples hobbies, on their own money, for their own fun. I assume the talk about things isn't even the primary goal, but just a necessity as unusual things tend to draw attention anyway. Consequently, relations to fan-boys and media have to be managed. But that's just a side-effect?

  • Troll. Go away. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NReitzel ( 77941 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:14PM (#48709003) Homepage

    Nuff' said.

  • by Man On Pink Corner ( 1089867 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:25PM (#48709061)

    ... with the author's conflation of "shooting endangered animals on safari" with the pursuits of a James Cameron, Elon Musk, or Richard Garriott.

    So, I guess I took the clickbait, huh.

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:26PM (#48709071) Homepage Journal

    Silicon sultans are the new robber barons

    What's with the "robber" nonsense? Whom did the "silicon sultans" rob and of what? Are the toiling masses of the downtrodden not better off with Internet-connections to a dazzling variety of sites and cellular phones in their pockets?

    Perhaps, comparing value-creating capitalists to the highway plunderers of the dark-ages — as has been the Illiberal Socialists' wont for nearly 150 years [wikipedia.org] — is not entirely warranted?

    • by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @10:11PM (#48709277) Homepage

      What are "robber barons" anyways? John D. Rockefeller [wikipedia.org], founder of Standard Oil is an excellent example of one. He gained an early lead in the oil industry. Then he used some rather extreme tactics to preserve his lead, none of which benefited consumers. For one, he bought up rail lines surrounding his competitors, and used this ownership to deny his competitors the ability to transport their oil. Those competitors responded by packing their oil in barrels which could then be loaded onto multiple means of conveyance (i.e. trucks). This is why oil is still measured in "barrels". Rockefeller responded by attempting to control the market on the compound that was used to seal the barrels from leaking. The government eventually responded by breaking up Standard Oil into many different companies.

      The above doesn't sound like Space X under Elon Musk. Space X is the plucky newcomer disrupting the existing American launch contractor United Launch Alliance (ULA) and its cosy relationship with the US military. If anything, ULA, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing fall under the moniker of "Robber Baron". This writer sounds like a troll acting in the best interests of the decaying American launch industry.

      • "I can't believe these NEW fatcats think they're as good as our OLD fatcats!"

      • by Teancum ( 67324 )

        Then he used some rather extreme tactics to preserve his lead, none of which benefited consumers.

        Other than the fact that between when Rockefeller started providing products for his customers and when he finally called himself a billionaire, he was selling the same product for less than 10% of what he was originally charging. I suppose that didn't help the consumer in any manner?

        I'm not saying he was a saint and that there was no room for criticism, but you are also flat out wrong that his actions didn't help the buyers of the products he was selling. That he clearly stopped other potential competito

        • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

          Yes, but... Global Warming! Oil is EVIL! Cheap Oil Will Kill Us All!

        • I'm not saying he was a saint and that there was no room for criticism, but you are also flat out wrong that his actions didn't help the buyers of the products he was selling. That he clearly stopped other potential competitors from entering the marketplace is true, but he also was hardly the only person to shut out subsequent potential competitors from entering into an industry either. Sadly, most business regulations and laws are designed explicitly to encourage that kind of behavior too.

          Just because others do it doesn't make it right. Just because organizations like Rockefeller's have purchased and corrupted our political system doesn't make it right. Just because similar organizations have purchased most of the media and broadcast the subtle propaganda that you have so faithfully reproduced doesn't make it right. Rockefeller illegally used his dominant market position to supress actual competition. That you so casually defend such reprehensible behavior speaks more to the effectivenes

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          Perhaps the prices would have dropped down to 5% or less of what he was originally charging if there had been real competition.
          The price dropped due to improvements in technology, not due to generosity on the part of Rockefeller.
          Anyways when you get right down to it, capitalism is about capturing government to ensure your profits.

  • You can criticize Richard Branson on plenty of things, but I don't recall him ever selling any of his ventures as being philanthropic. From my vantage point he has been pretty clear on the fact that he does what he does because he has the money to do it, and if it somehow helps others along the way that's just gravy.

    Now, there are plenty of others who try to spin their adventures as being for "humanity", but I don't recall an adventure of his where he went for that label.
  • Neither article is well researched and the "Billionaire Space Club" in Slateis particularly awful in terms of even pulling out legitimate statistics other than from the author's hind end. In the rare instance (like his quote of $35 million for space tourists on the Soyuz spacecraft) that he seems to get something close to reality, it is so dated and obsolete that he might has well be making up that figure too. I have no idea where the "$20,000 per pound to take cargo into orbit" figure came from as that i

    • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

      To be fair, SpaceX's valuation is probably similar to or higher than ATK at this point. They disputed the $10 billion figure, but the estimate of their valuation in 2012 was $4-5 billion, and they've added a rather large amount of future business to the books since then, including a lot of regular launches, plus stuff like the multi-billion dollar NASA contracts... ATK, for their part, has a market cap of $3.7 billion.

      • by Teancum ( 67324 )

        The value of SpaceX as a corporation would largely be due to the nearly cult-like personality of Elon Musk and a whole bunch of people trying to get a piece of the action that he is doing with the company, not so much what is on the books for launch contracts.... which would barely be about $2 billion (being generous including NASA and DOD/intelligence contracts that are a matter of public record). They only had six launches this year (still pretty good), and being very generous with $100 million per launc

        • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

          I'm not disagreeing with anything you're saying with the exception of their book of business. I'm not sure how you came up with a figure of $2 billion including NASA contracts, when their CCtCap contract alone is for $2.6 billion. And using your average of $100 million per launch, well, they've got a good deal more than 20 flights on their manifest...

          One of their biggest weaknesses seems to be their launch frequency. People keep telling me I'm crazy when I predict they're not going to hit anywhere close to

  • by marciot ( 598356 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @09:50PM (#48709191)

    They hate us 'cuz they ain't us.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Somebody pissed in Seife's corn flakes this morning, and he's taking it out on anyone more accomplished than himself. Which is pretty much everybody.

  • by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2014 @10:18PM (#48709297)
    What are the alternatives? Who will fund things like deep sea diving or space launch systems? (Big game hunting is just a stupid troll.)

    There are only two groups outside of individual rich people who can fund these endeavors: governments and normal investment. Governments are already in the game. India just launched their first heavy lift vehicle, for example.

    Regular investment will never take that kind of risk. Perhaps in the past you could have raised money on Wall Street or the equivalent, but these days big financial institutions expect government subsidized guaranteed profit. It's so much easier to buy legislation, manipulate the system and control regulators then invest in long term innovation. Acquisitions and mergers along with zero interest prime rate funding lines their pockets without any bothersome "investing". Why bother with risky space investment, for example?

    So it's fine if big egos go after these kinds of things. There are a lot worse ways that the ultra rich spend their wealth. Would you rather see Musk with Tesla and SpaceX, or Ellison with his billion dollar yacht?

    By the way, you are subsidizing Ellison's yacht and purchase of the island of Lanai in Hawaii. He took out a loan against his stock in Oracle, [cnbc.com] so the interest he pays defers his income taxes. To quote another rich asshat, "taxes are for little people."

  • They just want to found the 100km high club.

    Are NASA/Russian astronauts allowed to have sex in space?
  • SpaceX (Score:5, Informative)

    by EnsilZah ( 575600 ) <EnsilZah@@@Gmail...com> on Thursday January 01, 2015 @01:04AM (#48709883)

    I've been following SpaceX recently so I thought I'd point out a few things about them in regards of breaking new ground.

    The company went from being founded to launching its first commercial payload to orbit in about seven years. (Which seems pretty quick in aerospace timescales)

    They're consistently delivering supplies to the ISS for about half the price of their competitor using the Dragon capsule which is also able to return cargo back to Earth.
    The Dragon capsule was designed with carrying passengers in mind, and version 2 of the capsule which will be undergoing launch abort tests soon is scheduled to start taking astronauts up to the ISS in about two years or so.
    It will also be capable of landing propulsively.

    They've undercut the prices of all existing competitors significantly, making them scramble to design new rockets to match SpaceX's price, but they'll only be ready around 2020.
    Meanwhile SpaceX has been testing reusing the rocket's first stage.
    The upcoming mission to the ISS will have its first stage attempt to land on a barge at sea, with the ultimate goal being landing back at the launch site.
    Elon claims a theoretical potential hundred-fold price reduction for launches, but even a ten-fold reduction would have a significant effect on the industry.

    In the longer term, SpaceX has plans for much larger engines and spaceships, with the ultimate goal of landing on Mars and eventually enabling people to move to Mars for around $500K.

  • by l0n3s0m3phr34k ( 2613107 ) on Thursday January 01, 2015 @03:37AM (#48710237)
    There is some retarded troll on there named MikeyD who argues with every post...he keeps claiming that "space" is a completely empty void that has nothing but a few empty rocks, repeating that locking yourself in an SUV for six months is simulating a Mars trip and other such trollish nonsense. Even so, the author here is just super-whiney; I guess he's mad that Musk and Branson didn't give him their money and are building out a space infrastructure again. The author also seems quite confused as to the differences between SpaceX and VG claiming their basically the same type of company. I guess he'd rather these guys just be like John McAfee and use their money to create a harem and make customized bath salts.
    • It's a big empty void aside from a very very interesting rocks. We live on one of the larger rocks. Some of the other large rocks are potentially habitable, though a lot more difficult than our current one. The smaller rocks are of scientific interest.

      There may even be other easily-habitable rocks, they are just a lot further away and currently inaccessible.

  • Total BS (Score:4, Informative)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday January 01, 2015 @02:37PM (#48712321) Journal
    When Gates and others push to have ALL of their money given to philanthropy, I just shake my head and say what fools. It will be spread around and do little good.
    OTOH, ppl like Paul Allen is the one that pushed the cable companies to carry the internet. Likewise, he funded Scaled Composites jump into the X-Prize and winning it. This was the real start of private space going forward.
    Now, we have Ellon Musk building up companies such as PayPal, Solar City, Tesla, and SpaceX.
    Between these 4 companies, he employs more than 100K ppl. BUT, more importantly, all 4 have changed society for the better.
    Paypal helped bring retailing to the net. Prior to paypal, few wanted to put their CCs on the net (in fact, only idiots did).
    Solar City was key to bringing down the costs of solar installs. The reason is because they focused on getting the INSTALLATION to be cheap and fairly quick, while buying from various makers and forcing their prices way down. Now, they are building MULTIPLE factories that will do 1GW/year of solar modules.
    Tesla has forced ALL of the other car companies to produce hybrids and electric cars. In fact, Tesla has made such an impact on the car makers that all of the majors are banding together to push fuel cells. In the mean time, Tesla has installed over 300 super chargers around the world, and will almost certainly have 600-1000 units by end of next year. In the mean time, they are busy producing a line of factories in which the first one will more than double the production of li-ion batteries.
    Now, he has SpaceX which has created the world's cheapest launch system. But, he is not content to stop there. He is working on recovering the first stage of F9 and 3 stages of FH. If this is successful, then sometime next year, he will cut the prices up to 50% off. And again, he is not interested in stopping there. He is instead focused on creating a rocket that will launch 200+tonnes to LEO, so as to send ppl to the moon and mars. All of this is forcing other companies and govs. to change.

    The author has a point that many of the billioniares are doing NOTHING productive with their money. The right solution is to drop taxes on new companies that are solving issues. This would encourage others to jump into these kinds of ventures. And it far far better to have 8 failures combined with 2 successes in new arenas, then to simple have the money sitting around doing nothing.

In 1914, the first crossword puzzle was printed in a newspaper. The creator received $4000 down ... and $3000 across.

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