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Musk shows no mercy

June 20, 2022

Elon Musk has had a spectacular few days. A successful launch on June 17th, when a SpaceX rocket placed 53 Starlink satellites into orbit, was followed the next day with the launch of the SARah-1 German military mission from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and where the booster rocket returned to land. A third launch on June 19th took Globalstar 2, a low Earth orbiting communications and data satellite, into orbit. On June 22nd SpaceX is planning to launch SES-22 for the Luxembourg operator.

But last week also saw Musk exercise his mercurial side which perhaps has at its base his self-admitted Asperger’s syndrome. Employees at SpaceX were fired because of a letter which emerged that was critical of Musk’s management style.

Musk’s many successes with Tesla, SpaceX and even the Boring Company are self-evident. He is without doubt inspirational to very many – but last week he seemingly snapped when some of his staffers at SpaceX wrote a letter which called for SpaceX to make its work culture more inclusive and “define and uniformly respond to all forms of unacceptable behaviour”, and that Musk was a distraction and embarrassment to SpaceX.

At least five workers were fired. Musk’s ‘right-hand lady’ and SpaceX president, Gwynne Shotwell, sent an email saying the company had investigated and “terminated a number of employees involved” over the letter which had made some recipients “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views”.

Musk is an avid user of Twitter (which he now might or might not buy), and his frequent Tweets range across all of his commercial interests. and occasionally into politics. That Musk is a true genius is not doubted and with that territory comes – perhaps – occasional lapses. But he cares for his businesses. and like any other high-profile owner and in Tesla’s case majority shareholder, he will back his businesses to the hilt – and beyond.

His Falcon 9 booster on June 17th’s Starlink launch was the 13th use – and a world record – of the rocket. That means that the manufacturing cost has now been amortised to an extremely modest amount. Musk has repeatedly said that rapid and complete reuse of the rocket is the key breakthrough that will allow humanity to settle on Mars and achieve a variety of other ambitious spaceflight feats.

Musk and his team of SpaceX engineers and technicians managed this past weekend to successfully launch – and flawlessly land – three missions in barely 36 hours. A spectacular achievement.

Do not doubt his ambition.

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