Supporting Competence, the Example of Starship

A few days ago, SpaceX executed the first test launch of Starship. This represents a tremendous new opportunity to understand what we can achieve as we aim to colonize space. It also represents an opportunity to evaluate how we relate to daring endeavors, advancements, and how we look at the competence and the ability of those who try to go beyond.

I had the chance to talk to many people who are not in the middle of technology and developments in artificial intelligence or other fields, such as space exploration. My expectation was that they would be at least peripherally aware of the now reusable rockets, and that we are experimenting with and developing the next generation of these amazing machines. Specifically, that we were about to launch the fully reusable Starship. However, they didn’t know about it. If you ask someone who is not specifically interested in these fields, the sources of news and information they receive completely neglect this development.

Now, after the Starship test launch, there were some reports in newspapers and television news, but practically universally, these concentrated on the fact that the rocket exploded after a few minutes of flight. The details about the fact that it was foreseen that the rocket would be destroyed at a certain point, and not expected to land successfully, were not mentioned in the titles that would attract viewers or readers of these sources of information. The explosion was actually triggered by a command from the SpaceX launch facility because the two stages of the rocket couldn’t separate. If it were not for that particular moment, it would have been triggered a little later, or after completing its orbital flight, the first and second stage would still be destroyed on impact with the Pacific Ocean.

These sources of information focusing on the explosion disregard the process of iterative, rapid improvement that has been achieved with the previous generation of Falcon rockets from SpaceX and what we can expect from the Starship generation as well. Over months, not decades or many years, new launch attempts will be made, and new tests will be designed. The iterative process that these reports ignore allows the teams to learn a lot from each test and introduce immediate improvements. In fact, these improvements are staggered because SpaceX is creating a Starship factory. There are already several completed stage one boosters, and stage two Starships, and those that will be launched during the next test incorporate hundreds, if not thousands of improvements that are engineered on top of those that will be introduced, thanks to what has been learned during the previous test launch.

The second consequence of this kind of reporting is a curiously ignorant attitude towards the effort and competence that those in the teams invest and display. The superficial analysis that doesn’t take into account the process concludes with a sneer towards Elon Musk: the mega-billionaire failed because the rocket exploded. What Elon Musk actually does, at every possible occasion, is talk about the team and the effort, skills, passion, talent, and competence of the thousands of people who are behind SpaceX, both Falcon and Starship. These count for nothing, according to these reports. It is unnecessary, ignorant, and destructive. It is destructive to the morale of those teams, and hopefully, they are steeling themselves against even attempting to interface with these useless reports. It is destructive towards the readers and viewers they are targeting because they are actively keeping them in ignorance and training them not even to try to go beyond the surface of this kind of reporting. And finally, it is destructive towards the news organizations themselves, as their reputation is lost and they are left with only those who are content in their induced artificial bubble of ignorance.

This kind of contempt against competence is extremely toxic, and we have to actively fight against it. We have to cherish and celebrate the achievements of our civilization. Of course, before becoming perfect, everyone makes mistakes and goes through errors in order to achieve what they can do. Falcon 9, the previous generation of rockets from SpaceX, has had its fair share of failures, but now it has completed over 100 perfect launches and landings in sequence. It is an amazing science fiction-level of competence and perfection, and is worthy of our celebration. It is what we should be sharing every day.

So, I am very much looking forward to future tests. I am also looking forward to celebrating and supporting the ingenuity, passion, and competence that SpaceX and its thousands of team members have demonstrated.