And that’s what makes Musk’s largely mediocre results all the more frustrating. It seems that the story of Elon Musk is one of grand promises, followed by tempered expectations.
On August 5, 2019, Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX quietly rolled back statements it had made about one of its most promising ventures — the Crew Dragon rocket. Following the Dragon’s first successful parachute water landing in 2010, Musk announced his vision for the future of the capsule. In the coming years, the Crew Dragon would no longer need parachutes to soften its fall. Instead, it would make precision landings using just its thrusters and landing gear.
True to form, Musk’s promise was certainly an ambitious one. If successful, the Crew Dragon’s landing technology would revolutionize space travel. But now, nearly a decade following the rocket’s initial touchdown, Musk’s promise has not only failed to materialize; it has been broken completely.
Following the well-publicized April 2019 Crew Dragon explosion, in which SpaceX’s shuttle erupted into a fireball during testing, Musk’s aerospace company conducted an internal investigation into the cause of the incident. The audit uncovered a dangerous mistake within the capsule’s propellant delivery system, a design flaw that ultimately caused Crew Dragon’s undoing. Rather than take the time to address the concern, SpaceX decided to scrap the landing feature it had touted for years. With the rocket’s most recent design adjustments, the Crew Dragon will no longer have the potential to execute its game-changing propulsive landing.
Unfortunately, this trend of disappointing performance isn’t limited to merely the Crew Dragon incident.
When it comes to Musk’s enterprises, the need to temper one’s expectations is all too common. SpaceX, a company heralded as a revolutionary force in the aerospace industry, has largely struggled to live up to the lofty expectations it set for itself.
In late 2018, for instance, SpaceX failed to secure a critical launch contract under the first phase of the Air Force’s Launch Service Agreement program. Rather than being the impetus for change within the aerospace community, SpaceX was outcompeted by longstanding industry stalwarts. Musk would later admit that his company “missed the mark” in preparing its contract bid, a sloppy mistake incongruent with SpaceX’s promise to bring about a space revolution.
It’s this incongruence that has led some to defend Musk’s enterprises to the point of absurdity. Rather than accept the fact that SpaceX tends to overpromise and underdeliver, certain people have turned to the federal government to ensure the company’s success.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith epitomizes this type of behavior. Undoubtedly, Smith is a true believer in the vision that Elon Musk offers. And Smith is willing to provide Musk with the resources SpaceX needs to succeed, even at a cost to the American taxpayer.
In early June 2019, the HASC Chairman introduced a provision into the House-passed 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would provide SpaceX with a substantive advantage over its competition. The “SpaceX earmark” would supply the company with $500 million in federal funding to make up for the money the company lost in the first phase of the Launch Service Agreement.
The NDAA would make a number of other substantial changes to the LSA program, including diluting the Air Force’s competitive standards for launch services to help companies like SpaceX. However, the half-a-billion-dollar earmark, tailored specifically to benefit SpaceX at the expense of its opponents, clearly tilts the competitive landscape in favor of Musk’s company. Smith’s provision may be entirely unfair and antithetical to honest and open competition. Nevertheless, it makes sense as a tool to ensure that Musk doesn’t once again fail to meet expectations.
The desire to see Elon Musk succeed is certainly understandable. His promises are so extravagant, and his goals are so impressive that it’s no wonder why people like Adam Smith would pull strings to support SpaceX.
But Musk must rise and fall on his own merits, as providing his companies with exclusive benefits merely incentivizes their subpar performance. It may be frustrating when Musk overpromises and underdelivers, but we must adjust our expectations accordingly.
Julio Rivera is a small business consultant, political activist, writer and Editorial Director for Reactionary Times. He has been a regular contributor to Newsmax TV and columnist for Newsmax.com since 2016. His writing, which is concentrated on politics, cybersecurity and sports, has also been published by websites including The Hill, The Washington Times, LifeZette, The Washington Examiner, American Thinker, The Toronto Sun and PJ Media and many others. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.