Time to move to Mars?

By Lloyd Graff

Elon Musk with the SpaceX lander module and Falcon 9 rocket

It has been a while since I wrote about business, which may be a commentary in itself about what I think life is like in the machining business in 2016.

My sense of the action, or inaction, today is widespread caution. I would not call it dread or pervasive fear, but a mood of “wait and see” for more clarity of where the economy and the country is headed.

Politically, there is considerable nausea about a Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton matchup. People confront me frequently with the rhetorical question, “what kind of country gives us The Donald and Hillary to choose from?” I shake my head and silently cringe. It isn’t a choice that inspires the confidence to invest heavily in people or equipment.

In my hopeful heart of hearts I think the political system will push whoever is elected to the center, but 2016 is a clear notice of a broken political system on the national level which begs for a third or fourth party to replace the two parties that provide an untrustworthy Clinton and a screwy Trump to choose from. It’s enough to make me think about moving to Mars.

On a personal level, our machinery business lost a big deal recently when our client’s investors pulled out, supposedly out of fear of a Clinton presidency. It could just as easily have been out of fear of a Trump presidency. Both are poison to so many people.

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The numbers that are coming these days generally reflect the country’s malaise. Housing starts have finally risen past the significant one million per year mark. March was supposed to show 1.1 million starts, but slipped under that pace, giving us two straight months of slowing. The 2016 housing starts pace is the best since 2008. Mortgage rates are hovering at 4%, give or take, which is historically attractive, but income stagnation is sapping confidence. The result is fewer holes in the ground, less toilets and faucets for the plumbing brass folks to sell, and sinking sales of cutting tools and rod.

Automotive is seeing a similar softening with sales slipping under the 18 million units per year gold standard. Cheap financing has helped fuel the car boom in recent years. Lengthening the payment terms to as long as 72 months on car loans is a smart tactic for car sellers and finance companies because the vehicles are made so much better today than in the bad ole days. A 6-year-old car is a better investment now than a 3-year-old car or truck 15 years ago.

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Tesla’s $35,000 electric car picked up 131,000 reservations from people willing to put down $1000 for the privilege of getting an early one.

Elon Musk keeps proving folks wrong on the demise of his company. As long as he continues getting payments from governments for zero pollution vehicles he can keep his ship afloat. Musk is incredibly resourceful and gutsy. I hope he makes it with Tesla.

I am utterly fascinated by Elon Musk. He thinks big and long term, which he can do because he controls his companies himself. His SpaceX private rocket company has finally succeeded in the soft landing of a space vehicle. In the short run, this means reusable rockets for supplying the International Space Station and the beginning of space tourism. Musk’s real goal is space travel and colonization of Mars. This used to be science fiction, but no longer. People are volunteering already to be pioneers on Mars, even though it is a one way ticket in today’s world. In Musk’s biography he stated that his lifelong goal is to be one of the early colonizers of Mars. Then he plans to spend the rest of his life on the Red Planet.

When I read this I was dubious, but now I believe him. He probably envisions being King of Mars, because I can’t see him easily accepting orders from other folks. Hopefully he likes potatoes because they appear to be the perfect crop for the first Martian farmers. NASA is experimenting with all sort of varieties, looking for the best options. Musk is probably already making French fries with his spuds of choice.

Question: Would you rather colonize Mars or take a Viking River Cruise?

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6 thoughts on “Time to move to Mars?

  1. Brian Appelwick

    As of last week, Model 3 orders were approaching 400,000. I’m one of them as well as a Model S owner for 3 years. Great car and game changing company.

     
  2. allen

    Viking River Cruise hands down if that’s my only other choice.

    Pioneers have a ridiculously high mortality rate and while it’s thrilling to think of all the schools and roads that’ll be named after you, all the tykes that will thrill to a recounting of your adventures, and all the statues of you that’ll litter public parks, you’re still dead. Probably a lot sooner then if you’d gone on a Viking River Cruise.

    Musk appears to be very much a man of our time. Self-indulgence looks to be well on the way to being enshrined as an inalienable right although no one’s yet started the process of enshrining in the form of the Twenty-Eighth Amendment. Perhaps that would be redundant.

    Musk produces very nice cars but not notably nicer then those with which his cars compete their singular virtue being the potential for virtue-signaling. But that’s a transient benefit. After a while all those who are eager to demonstrate their eco-warrior credentials have bought a Tesla. Zero tailpipe emissions are today’s tailfins.

    Since not a one Tesla would have rolled off the assembly line but for substantial subsidies they don’t even serve the free market purpose of increasing the total wealth of humanity. Subsidies necessarily come from the wealth-producing parts of the economy and are directed at the wealth-destroying parts of the economy. I doubt many public parks will be adorn with statues of the King of Subsidies.

    Not that we won’t get to Mars sometime in the future but the reasons given so far don’t bear much in the way of inspection.

    A lot more likely, and paving the way for those who do want to go to Mars is Richard Branson and his forty-five minutes to anywhere on the face of the earth, Virgin Galactic. Along with that we’ve got SpaceX and the inflatable space hotel.

    At the right price there’ll be plenty of business for near-earth orbit tourism if for no other reason then bragging rights. But once the price goes down other possibilities start to open up. Going where plenty of other people have gone before might not have the dash of the Star Trek tag line but you’re a lot more likely to get home.

     
    +13
  3. Jeff Poole

    Mars or a river cruise? Neither, Call me an old grouch(I won’t argue) but I’d rather export a good 99% of the human race to Mars, leaving me and the other 1% here to try to restart this system here. THE #1 problem with our planet today, and all other problem can be linked back to this, there are too many people on this planet. 99% might be an excessive number, but our natural resources are being over taxed, we’re over crowded, creating too much poison as a by product of our day to day living. I’m not some radical tree hugger, but this old planet could use a break. Ad I’m afraid that nature is going to create one if we don’t let up on her. Throughout history, any species that gets too big for it’s resources ALWAYS comes up with some sort of disease that decimates the population, and puts it back in balance. We’re long overdue.

     
    +2
  4. Bob Ducanis

    Definitely Viking Cruise.

    Manned space flight is incredibly dangerous and expensive. I’ve have followed the manned space program all of my life. I have watched innumerable rocket launches from our former facility in Cape Canaveral, both manned and unmanned. I have seen many rockets explode, including the Challenger in 1986. I knew one of the two launch team directors for the Shuttle, knew one of NASA’s administrators that was with the family of Astronaut Onizuka when the Challenger blew up.

    For space exploration, most scientists will say that money is better spent on unmanned space probes to explore our solar system and the universe. There are those that will say we need to expand our horizons to inhabit Mars so that we have a place to go when Earth becomes uninhabitable itself. What for? So we can pollute another planet in our solar system? Who would be the ‘lucky’ few to be chosen for this relocation?

    In my humble opinion, the manned space flight program is a jobs program with no direction. Once the enthusiasm died from conquering the moon, NASA was left with trying to find a way to keep the public’s interest and the money train intact. The Shuttle was supposed launch satellites and retrieve existing ones for repair. I think a total of 4 satellites were launched before NASA decided to go back to expendable boosters. Then we decide to send a Senator (Garn), Congressman (Nelson), and school teacher (McCaullife), into space?? A complete publicity stunt on all three. With John Glenn going back into space, I will give him his due as he was a pioneer who risked it all.

    The thing that really sticks in my mind was NASA administration attempting to block any repairs to the Hubble Telescope on the grounds that it was ‘too dangerous.’ This was after one of the Shuttle disasters. I believe they felt another disaster would put the nail in the coffin for funding of the manned program. The astronauts put their lives on the line as soon as they are buckled into the spacecraft. A little spacewalk would be the least of their worries. The repairs were eventually accomplished after quite a bit a wrangling to proceed with this risky activity.

    Do we think that Mars will be better than the Moon for Mankind? We haven’t been back to the Moon for over 40 years.

     
    +1
    1. David

      Our company had a small role in the “return to flight” program after the second shuttle disaster. After successfully retrofitting the remaining fleet and a successful launch, NASA ran a series of thank you events for all involved in the program. Our local event featured Shuttle astronaut Mike Massimino, one of the few “lucky humans” (his words) to walk in space. His descriptions of his four space walks to repair the Hubble on two separate missions were thrilling. This tough, brave and very smart engineer choke back tears when describing the view of Earth from 340 miles above.
      Still I have to agree that Bob is right. With advancements in computing and robotics we can explore much more of our solar system and someday beyond, much more quickly and cheaply with probes and rovers. I have nothing but admiration and envy for the astronauts and engineers who took us into space. Much like the test pilots from the jet age however, I think we won’t see their kind again.
      As far as Mars or a cruise, I will pass. I just spent a week wandering the canyons, salt flats and volcano craters of Death Valley National Park. We saw deserts blooming with millions of wildflowers. There is still too much beauty on this planet that I haven’t experienced.

       
      +3

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