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Guest: Eric Berger; Topics: Eric's new book, "Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days that Launched SpaceX." In addition, Eric answered multiple questions about SpaceX, NASA, other companies, Elon Musk and returning to the Moon.
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We welcomed Eric Berger back to the program for a 90 minute discussion starting with Eric's new book, "Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days that Launched SpaceX." Liftoff was the subject of the discussion for the early part of our program, then we kept coming back to it in the context of Eric receiving other questions from callers and email listeners. Eric introduced us to the early period of SpaceX, Elon Musk, the Falcon 1 rocket and the four Falcon 1 launches with the fourth one being successful. He explained how SpaceX was close to shutting down when the fourth launch was successful. Listeners asked him about the Elon Musk management style given most had heard stories and rumors. Don't miss how Eric responded to these questions. One question I took the liberty of asking myself was how long it took the giggle factor within the industry regarding SpaceX to disappear. This turned out to be a complicated question leading to an involved but most interesting response from our guest. Don't miss what he said when replying to me.
Eric detailed the first three Falcon 1 launches, their problems and the cause for failure. When asked later about a checklist with an 11th item on it rather than the conventional 10 items, Eric referred to the Falcon 1 problems, especially the slosh problem which caused a failure. The slosh problem was the 11th item on their checklist but at the time they only checked out the first 10 items on the list.
Eric started getting questions about SpaceX and current news, especially their recent NASA award for their human lunar lander. Paul wrote in asking that if Starship proves successful, what type of pressure does that put on SLS. At this point, multiple listener questions came in about SLS, Orion, and Starship. These questions came in at different times during the remaining time for our program so listen carefully if this particular topic interests you.
Listeners sent in questions about Blue Origin and the other competitors challenging the SpaceX Award. Another question focused on the initial wealth of Musk and wondered how that factored into the success of SpaceX. Be sure not to miss what Eric said in response to the wealth question. Jerry in Florida called us with his concern for the glass dome in Inspiration4, the Crew Dragon lunar tourist vehicle that will fly with the glass dome without test flights. Don't miss this interesting discussion.
SLS and Orion were the source of many questions and phone calls. A major focus was will Starship be the end of SLS. Listen to all of what was said by both listeners and Eric. You decide, then post your result on our blog for this show. We want to hear from you on this issue. We took a call from Marshall who wanted to talk about Musk hiring plans, especially early VIPs and initial hires. Marshall said what he was talking about was referred to as the football squad system. Carl from Houston sent in a note asking Eric if Musk intended to move all of SpaceX to Texas. Eric provided some interesting observations on this question. Dr. Doug called plus he sent in several email questions during the balance of the show. He talked about tipping points, the NASA budget award, strategies, a movie about Elon, the 2024 timetable being back on the table and related factors.
The subject of SpaceX opposition came up and here Eric had lots to say. I asked if the critics carried muscle. Eric's response may surprise you so do listen for it. We next took a call from Ft. Worth John. He told Eric that NASA was going the high risk route because Starship and/or the lander may not work. Then what for NASA as there was no backup lander. John and Eric talked about this being a possible strategy to get NASA to put more money on the table for the selection of one of the other lander contestants just to cover the risk Ft. Worth John was talking about.
Dr. Lurio of The Lurio Report called to discuss multiple topics including the SpaceX award. I followed this by asking if Eric planned his next book on Starship. Eric said no, suggesting it might be years before we have an assessment on Starship. He talked about another book focusing on reusability and why. Eric was then asked if SpaceX had any meaningful domestic or foreign competition. Listen to what Eric said about China in his response to this question.
Please post your comments/questions on our Space Show blog for this show. You can reach Eric Berger through me or through Ars Technica.