Explaining Southern California's economy

Mars Curiosity v. SpaceX: Running the numbers

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Grant Slater/KPCC

Members of the project leadership team pass out high fives to engineers from mission control before a press conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Sunday night. At $2.5 billion, the Curiosity mission equals what NASA has given to SpaceX in funding.

KPCC reporters had been talking to Southland scientists and engineers and counting down the days until NASA's most ambitious rover yet — Curiosity — prepares to land on the Martian surface. Follow the series online.


The spectacular success of JPL in landing the Mars Curiosity rover on Mars last night followed hot of the heels of SpaceX's stunning demonstration that a commercial spaceflight company — and a startup, no less — could do what only governments had been able to do: send a capsule to the International Space Station and bring it back home.

The JPL rocket scientists in their now iconic powder-blue polo shirts (not to mention mohawks) and SpaceX's engineers in their L.A. casual-cool mission control room threads formed a vivid contrast with the buttoned-up (and tobacco-friendly) NASA vibe of old. Something new is definitely in the air, er...airless void of space, and much of it is being designed and built in Southern California. SpaceX is headquartered in Hawthorne, just south of L.A, and JPL calls Pasadena home.

Read More...

DeBord Report on 'America Now with Andy Dean,' June 15 edition

Andy Dean Banner

A lot of politics in my weekly business and economic rundown with Andy Dean on "America Now." But also some talk of escaping the financial disaster area that is California for another place with an ocean but far less onerous taxes: Florida. As well as a chance for me to talk about Elon Musk's commencement address at Caltech, which I covered last week.

The politics: There's a view these days that President Obama's attempts to brand Mitt Romney as a financial elitist due to his record at Bain Capital didn't work an that Obama is now running against not Romney but the previous Republican President, George W. Bush. This is probably true, and it's created a whiff of desperation in the Obama campaign. It also isn't going to work, so expect another Obama pivot until he finds something that can make Romney look like Bush III.

Read More...

Elon Musk to Caltech grads: 'You guys are the magicians of the 21st century'

Elon Musk

Andres Aguila/KPCC

Elon Musk, SpaceX founder, gives his commencement speech to the Caltech graudatiing class during the 118th annual commencement ceremony on June 15, 2012. "You guys are the magicians of the 21st century. Don't let anything hold you back, imagination is the limit and go out there and create some magic," said Musk.

Caltech Graduation

Andres Aguila/KPCC

A graduate gives his undivided attention to Elon Musk's commencement speech during the Caltech graduation ceremony on June 15, 2012.

Elon Musk - Caltech Graduation

Andres Aguila/KPCC

Jordan Robert Raney (right) shakes the hand of Elon Musk (left) after recieving his doctorate of philosophy degree during the Caltech graduation ceremony on June 15, 2012.

Caltech Graduation

Andres Aguila/KPCC

Caltech Graduates wait to be seated during the 118th annual commencment ceremony on June 15, 2012 in Pasadena.

Caltech Graduation

Andres Aguila/KPCC

The Caltech Glee Club sing "Ode to Joy," during the 118th annual commencement ceremony on June 15, 2012.

caltech Graduation

Andres Aguila/KPCC

Family members try to capture a photos and video of graduates as they walk up on stage to receive their degree during the Caltech 118th annual commencement ceremony on June 15, 2012.

caltech Graduation

Andres Aguila/KPCC

A barefoot graduate walks to his seat after recieving his degree during the Cal tech Commencement ceremony on June 15, 2012.


Elon Musk has made a name for himself as an innovative entrepreneur in banking (PayPal), cars (Tesla Motors), rocketry (SpaceX), and alternative energy (SolarCity). He's a very driven, very smart man. He's a billionaire, the 20th richest person in Los Angeles. But at today's California Institute of Technology graduation is Pasadena, he was surrounded by more brainpower than even he's used to, and it was humbling.

Musk's commencement address capped an impressive few months for the CEO. The model for the Tony Stark character played by Robert Downey, Jr. in the "Iron Man" and "Avengers" movies just completed the first successful commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. In a week, Tesla will begin deliveries of its Model S sedan. He's on a roll. 

But so is Caltech. So the 526 graduates of the 2012 class at all academic levels were ready to receive Musk's inspiration and wisdom. He didn't disappoint. "You guys are the magicians of the 21st century," he said. "Don't let anything hold you back. Go out there and make some magic."

Read More...

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's rock star press conference after Dragon's splashdown

NASA-SpaceX

NASA TV

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk establishes a whole new image for final frontier.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is officially the hottest chief executive on Planet Earth. His Southern California space-exploration startup just staged the most impressive and successful demonstration of commercial space technology...well, ever.

Launch to splashdown, except for a last-second abort of a weekend blastoff — rectified a few days later — and a brief power outage or communications glitch at SpaceX's Hawthorne HQ, it all went off with nary a miscue. 

Even the hardened space honchos at NASA are probably hoping for ride in Musk's personal Tesla Roadster in the near future (Musk is also CEO of Tesla Motors, the Silicon Valley electric carmaker). 

Musk himself followed up the splashdown of the Dragon capsule in the Pacific with a telegenic and sound-bite laden press conference. My tweets of the event, which was carried live on NASA TV, are below. I left out a good one, in which Musk said that what he wanted to say to Dragon, bobbing scorched but intact in the blue ocean after enduring fiery re-entry, was: "Welcome back, baby. It's like seeing your kid come home." 

Read More...

Facebook v. SpaceX, Part III: Meltdown and splashdown

NASA-SpaceX

NASA TV

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is having a much better few weeks than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is honeymooning in Italy while Facebook's stock heads ever-southward, a week and half after its disappointing IPO — possibly the most disappointing big IPO in U.S. business history.

Meanwhile, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is sitting in a control room in Hawthorne, Calif., tweeting away as his space exploration startup caps the best two weeks for the U.S. and space since Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to visit space in 1961.

Facebook meltdowns while SpaceX splashes down! You can't beat the symmetry for these two California companies. (For what it's worth, Facebook should be OK. A $60 billion market-cap company is nothing to sneeze at.)

So SpaceX's Dragon capsule did indeed successfully detach from the International Space Station, survive atmospheric re-entry, deploy chutes, and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja earlier today. As of 11:34 a.m. Pacific Time, it "looks good," according to Musk. So it hasn't sunk. It isn't on the barge yet, to head back to port.

Read More...