In journalistic terms, Elon Musk is a “good interview.”
The founder and CEO of launch company SpaceX, previously known for his roles in the creation of PayPal and electric car company Tesla, doesn’t have much of a filter. He also doesn’t seem to have a fear of a press scrum. Combine those two with a dash of controversy and you get something like the wide-ranging, twenty minute long impromptu Q&A session he held Tuesday night in Washington, DC.
The core of his comments were aimed at the Air Force and a certification process that he said “doesn’t make sense.” But over thumping dance beats from a DJ and a rowdy crowd, Musk also took on a pair of his favorite targets – Russia and the Lockheed Martin/Boeing backed United Launch Alliance.
Asked whether he would visit Mars in his lifetime, Musk said “I hope so, if I don’t get assassinated by like, some Russian assassin, which is not out of the question. They’ve done that before!”
For the record, Musk was laughing when he said it, but when a reporter asked if he had received any actual threats, he paused slightly before offering a rueful “not directly.”
“It’s kind of weird, having a twitter battle with the deputy prime minister of Russia. Is this the twilight zone, or what’s going on here?” Musk added, alluding to his back and forth with Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian official who offers mocking tweets from @drogozin towards US officials.
The role of Russia in US space launch, and the figure of Rogozin in particular, have been targets of Musk’s going back to the announcement of his protest suit against the Air Force.
One reporter asked what it says that the US relies on its old space-race foe to provide national security launch capabilities, a question Musk jumped on.
“I think it’s terrible,” he said. “Can you imagine if you went back 40 years ago and told people that in 2014 the United States would be at the mercy of Russia for access to low-earth orbit, let alone the moon or anything else? People would have thought you were insane. It’s just incredible that we’re in this position. Something needs to be done to get us out of this.”
Musk then turned to his other favorite target: the United Launch Alliance, a joint operation of Lockheed Martin and Boeing that has had a monopoly on military launch since the middle of last decade.
“Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex, and he ought to know. Has it gotten better or worse since Eisenhower? It hasn’t gotten better,” Musk said. “Lockheed and Boeing are used to stomping on new companies. They’ve certainly tried to stomp on us. I think we have a shot of prevailing but we’re certainly a small up and comer going against giants. It’s not an easy thing.”
The event was held at the Newseum, just a few blocks from Capitol Hill. It’s been clear part of SpaceX’s strategy is to build support from members of Congress to put pressure on the Air Force.
“On Capitol Hill, there seems to be broad-based support for competition,” Musk said.
As if to drive that point home, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who serves as Vice Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, was later seen offering Musk an enthusiastic thumbs-up from the entrance to the Dragon model featured at the event.
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