TEDxSanJoseCA – Jeff Greason – Rocket Scientist:  Making Space Pay and Having Fun Doing It
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TEDxSanJoseCA – Jeff Greason – Rocket Scientist: Making Space Pay and Having Fun Doing It

January 28, 2020


Translator: Fran Ontanaya
Reviewer: Capa Girl I know I have one of the coolest jobs on the planet. I run a spaceship company — here comes the mic — and I get to fire big rocket engines all the time, and I now have my first ride on the rocketship. But, it is not easy, in fact, it is by far, the most difficult thing I’ve ever done with my life. And I assure you there are easier ways to make money. (Laughter) So, why do it? Well, a few years ago my son looked up at me one night and asked me — sorry it still breaks me up — “Daddy is it really true that they used to fly to the Moon when you were a boy?” And that shook me and it still does. It shook me because that’s how a dark age begins. A dark age is not just when you as a civilization have forgotten how to do something — it’s when you forget that you ever could. It’s been fourteen years now, since I walked away from a great career in Intel that I was enjoying and that paid very well to work on solving the problem of affordable and reusable and reliable space transportation. And there’s a lot of reasons why I did that but ultimately for me it’s about avoiding a new Dark Age. I’m a child of Apollo. The greatest influences — do I still have somebody clicking — I had growing up were NASA and Star Trek and the works of Robert Heinlein. Those of you younger than I am probably can’t quite grasp it when I say I didn’t just believe we were going into space — I expected it. Space was obviously our next frontier. And I knew I wanted to be a part of it. But I didn’t see much point in studying how to build rockets. They were already flying. So instead I studied all the neat things we’d be able to do in space, once the transportation problem was solved. And the Space Shuttle was going to solve those problems. It was going to make space transportation affordable and reliable. But by 1981, when it finally flew, it was already clear that that promise was not going to be fulfilled. And only a few years later in 1986 I lost my faith that NASA was going to pave our way into the frontier. Some of you will remember watching over and over and over again, as they replayed the tape, Challenger explode live on national television. A lot of people who are in this business now have some Challenger story, mine is pretty simple. As a student at Caltech — we were obviously interested in space, but without special knowledge or expertise. I had known about the O-ring problem that doomed Challenger. A lot of people had. It was no secret. And I remember saying on the morning of the accident, “That looks like an O-ring! But that can’t be. They already found that problem.” Because it had never occurred to me, in my wildest nightmares, that you would have found something like that and not fixed it. One of my professors was on the accident investigation committee for Challenger, and what he found was, that hadn’t it been the O-rings it would’ve just been something else. The Shuttle was riddled with problems like that. And the culture at NASA at that time was not one of fixing them, it was one of explaining why they weren’t that serious. And that’s when I knew that, no matter how great the accomplishments of NASA had been or would be and no matter how much money Congress gave them or didn’t give them, they were never going to put me, and people like me into space. They were not going to open the frontier. So, getting into space is hard. (Laughter) But it’s not that hard. You hear people say things about rockets like, “We’ll never get into space if we don’t have something better than rockets”, or “We’ll never get into space cheaply, because the propellant costs too much”, or things like that. This is nonsense. And anybody who studies the problem can show you that it’s nonsense. It takes about a hundred million dollars to launch somebody to orbit on the Space Shuttle. It takes about twenty million dollars to launch somebody into orbit on the Soyuz. And in both cases, the cost of the propellant, the fuel and the oxidizer used, is about one one thousandth of that cost. So, where’s the rest? Well, it’s not in the materials. Rockets are built out of aluminum, just like airplanes. They are not built out of diamonds. So, where is it? It’s in the labor. It’s in the labor to run an assembly line for a big rocket that we use once and then it’s gone. Or it’s in the people to take a rocket that we get back, like the Shuttle, strip it down to individual pieces, inspect every one, replace the ones that are broken and put it back together again. And that takes about ten thousand people. Takes about three thousand people to run a production line for a rocket. Now, an airliner, carries just as much propellant as a rocket does, it’s just as big, and they are actually far more complicated than a rocket is. But then we use that airliner ten thousand times during it’s amortization life, at least. And we operate it with less
than one hundredth the people that it takes to operate a rocket. Or at least that has been taking to operate a rocket. And that’s why it takes $100,000,000 to take a person to orbit on the Space Shuttle, and $100 to take them on the Boston to New York shuttle. Furthermore, as for safety, we have flown people to space less than five hundred times since Yuri Gagarin did it for the first time in 1961. The Wright Brothers did more than 700 glider flights to get ready for their first powered flight attempt in 1903. The Space Age has not yet opened, we are at the very beginnings of it. That’s why I came into the rocket business. Because what we need is not magic, we just need for rockets to go through the same kind of competitive improvement process that aircraft have gone through. And the technology that we are missing is capitalism. That’s what has been lacking in the space business. Free enterprise, the same thing that makes things work in every other arena of modern life. So in our company we started out to develop rocket engines that would last. That we could fire over and over again and didn’t have to take apart between flights. That was a picture of my son running that engine per one thousandth time. It’s taken us ten generations of development to reach the engine you just saw that are now the full scale and full performance that we need for our vehicles. We have tested those engines in two generations of flight vehicles now — rocket powered aircraft. The first, the EZ Rocket, was built to demonstrate low cost operations. By the end of it’s flight history, we had demonstrated we could do the second flight of the day for $900 per flight. Which is many orders of magnitude cheaper than anyone had ever attempted with a manned rocket vehicle before. Our second vehicle, the X-Racer was developed primarily to push the operational tempo, how fast could we do things. I should mention this in there anyway — it’s a heck of a fun ride. I was flight test engineer on flight nine. By the end of its program, which lasted about forty flights, we had demonstrated the ability to land and prepare the vehicle for reflight in ten minutes, and to do seven flights in one day. And now –if the video cooperates– the work of many years is coming to fruition and we are finally building our suborbital vehicle, Lynx. A ride I can’t wait to take. That would take people up out of the atmosphere and back routinely. It would carry private individuals, corporate and goverment researchers, scientific experiments up out of the atmosphere and back. And we can use it to launch nanosatellites into orbit. And that combination of markets is what is going to pay for us to build up — finally to build up the enormous flight history that we need to find out what actually takes to do affordable and reliable space flight. We have competitors in this business, thank goodness we have competitors in this business. It takes competition to make us all do our best. You’ll notice that we are all flying test vehicles that look radically different from each other. Just like the early days of airplanes when [noone] seemed to figure out how many wings there were or they went on the front or the back. And I hope that they all succeed, and I hope only that we end being just a wee bit better than they are. (Laughter) (Applause) So, why should you care about any of this? I mean, space is neat, rockets are cool but this is way more than some kind of spectacle. The things that we had to do to make rockets work really are the same things that make the rest of society work — Competition, capitalism, free enterprise. And you don’t have to be a pessimist to look around the world or to look around at history, and see that these things aren’t inevitable. Humanity has a long history, but the society that we live in now is unique in human history and is in many ways a historical accident. Most of human history is the story of the strong few ruling over the poverty stricken many. We have something precious, which goes by many names — Renaissance Culture, the Industrial Revolution, Western Civilization, Liberty — call it what you want. That kind of society depends on creative destruction it depends upon a willingness to allow new ways of doing business to displace the old. And it also depends on continuously harnessing the creative energy of people who may be outside the system, of Edison or Tesla or Wright Brothers. In short, it can’t exist for long without freedom. And that in turn rests upon a deeper more fundamental belief. A belief that life is not a zero sum game. If you believe that life is a zero sum game then to you it makes sense to defend what you have at all costs. Because any change must be for the worst, right? It may make sense to you, if you want something, you should go steal it. Because what difference is it between making and stealing it if everything is a zero sum game? I don’t believe that for a second. Life is clearly better now than it was when I was younger. Any study of history shows me that as long as civilization has been around, smoothing out the peaks and the valleys, life has been getting better in measurable terms. Life in the state of nature was nasty, brutish and short. So I believe in progress, it’s not a dirty word. And I believe that as a beneficiary of that civilization it is my duty to add to it. To extend it, to carry it forward. And I believe that if you are a beneficiary of that civilization it is your duty too. Now the importance of a frontier is not just in the material or energy resources that it gives us — Now, they are there. Space is full of them. Everything we consider scarce here is abundant somewhere out there. The energy that it takes to power civilization is flooding through the Solar System in quantities we can scarcely imagine unused. While we sit here, debating and quivering with concern over whether we may be raising the temperature of the Earth by a fraction of a degree, Mars is sitting there waiting, begging for us to come and raise its temperature just a few degrees. And kick it over to a warm, wet world where we can live. And it is no more ambitious and no more crazy for us to consider doing that today, than it was for our ancestors to consider throwing railroads across the Sierra Nevada and building huge reservoirs and waterworks to bring water and power to California. And we could not live here today, in the numbers that we do, without those engineering works. Which we have come to regard as natural. But the most important element of a frontier is psychological. Because it’s hard to sustain that belief in limits, that belief in the zero sum game, when you can see stretching before you new lands untamed, untapped. I don’t think it’s an accident that the Industrial Revolution coincided with the age of Sail. I don’t think it’s an accident that the United States was founded on the edge of a very sparsely populated, untapped continent. And this time the lands that we see are truly unpopulated, they are waiting for the gift of life. Space is truly the final frontier. It’s final because once we reach it, it’s limitless. We aren’t going to need another one. But we have to reach it now. We have to reach it while the belief in dynamism and liberty is still with us. The stakes can’t be higher than they are right now. We are facing the choice about whether or not we leave a cradle in the nick of time and set ourselves on a course that would extend civilization for tens of thousands of years to come. I can’t imagine what that would bring. Or, to fail the test and fall into stasis and decline. Don’t fall into the trap that so many seem eager to set for you. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that we already have all that there is. The future can be better than the past. We can leave a better world, or better worlds, for our children. So it’s hard. It is hard. But how can I ask for a better job? I get to wake up every day and try to make all this possible. And all of you, in your own fields, are facing that same choice. And you’ve heard today people who have faced that choice creatively and you’ll hear more, but all of you face the same choice. Don’t just accept the benefits of civilization — add to it. Extend it. Preserve it. Thank you. (Applause)

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  1. @cupmyplums I thought the idea was that it would cost much less than 'huge sums of money' to be a part of these trips. Not to say they wouldn't be rather expensive for the first while, but I think his vision is to have the flights into LEO (I think that's what he was suggesting with the 'lynx' project he is working on') just as routine as a flight aboard an airliner.

  2. @someuser91 'Toys for the rich'. Hell no. You seemed to overlook a lot of other applications. Pay closer attention to the video.

  3. Competition, capitalism and the free market produce war, poverty, inequality, corrupt human values and environmental destabilization. What you see on Earth will be reflected into space if we allow people such as this man to achieve their intentions. THE UNIVERSE WILL NOT BE CAPITALIZED. Pun intended.

  4. @Matic293

    GOOD THING YOU WROTE ALL THAT USING PRODUCTS SPAWNED BY CAPITALISM

    WHAT YOU DESCRIBED IS IRRESPONSIBLE CAPITALISM

  5. @kittehjam Wut. There is much more space to live on out in the asteroid field, and it only takes twice as long time to go there as it takes to go to Mars. ION thrusters can make that trip only last 2 months or less, that is nothing! If we colonize one of the asteroids that have metal cores or contain 30% iron, we'll have materials in huge quantities to build whatever we want. Mega telescopes, cities, and all the space ships we want. This should be the future of humanity, not Mars!

  6. Great and inspirational speech. The capitalism he is pointing out is the freedom to create and innovate products competitively to maximize our potential as humans to be able to get the vast amount of resources/land out there in space.

    Think about capitalist vs communist countries. The reason all bad things happen is because of human vanity and deceitfulness, not the idea of how wealth should be earned.

    Cool spaceships and a great idea. I would love to fly out into space one day, wouldn't you?

  7. Honestly this might be the lamest TEDx Talk I ever heard. "Terraforming Mars is no more ambitious than building railroads across the Sierra Nevada" – What a fucking idiot.

  8. @Matic293 What you said is provable bullshit. War is created by government, NEVER the free market (free market = our freedom to transact freely, create services/products w/o interference, and the freedom to NOT pay for frivolous services we don't want… including most wars). Socialist governments – the opposite of free market – have killed in the 20th century alone, over 100 million people. How fucking dare you link human freedom as the root of war and all things evil.

  9. An example of objectivism at its finest. Here is a man of the mind! True innovators like him, and others, will save us from the next dark ages imposed by the troglodytes who believe the earth is 6,000 years old, and that a blastocyst is a person. Men and women like him ask not "who will let me?" but "who will stop me?"

  10. Don't take the blessings of civilization for granted. The world envisioned by Greason is possible as long as people remember the principles of sound economics. I highly recommend Jeffrey Tuckers book "It's a Jetson's World". Free to download online

  11. @ekim1966

    You're using a guy whose expounding solid conservative economic principles as a a pulpit for petty bickering with people of religion over issues that are neither critical nor in any way relevant to the problem of putting people into space? Hell we need less people to be aborted so we can have more people to work on building rockets cheaply!!!

  12. @IRUKANJI Re: petty bickering… I was speaking of the difference between honest unbiased scientific discovery and the pseudo-science of mysticism. The latter of which has been trying to worm its way into our educational (and legal) system for years. Both statism and mysticism infantilize human beings. If we leave the nest, we should be "adults". And yes, sound economic principles must be founded on free, honest exchange by free people. Also, I'm not really worried about a human shortage.

  13. How can anybody not like this? It's just mind-boggling. It's as if those 'dislike' people are anti-human.

  14. Was this a video advocating a mans love for capitalism or the emergence of an entire new industry – capitalist rocket flights… But I'll be honest there is a lot of truth to what ts

  15. There is a lot of truth to what this mam says. Though I may disagree with his skepticism regarding global warming, this is an idea that I haven't thought… Immigration to mars… How fascinating.

  16. @ekim1966 As a rocket scientist and a Christian, I know you are wrong. We will never get to mars if hedonist atheist tear society apart with their selfish ways. Most Christians don't think the world is 6000 years old or even close to it. The day you succeed in reducing a person to a pile of cells is the day civilization falls.

  17. @emschafe It is you who equate Christianity with troglodytism, not I. Hedonism is not rational self interest, it is acting on the pleasure of the moment. It is not synonymous with Atheism, which is the lack of belief in gods. Hedonism is not an attribute of Atheists, who are mostly very rational. I never insinuated that human beings are nothing more than a pile of cells, but that a group of undifferentiated cells isn't a man any more than an acorn is a fully formed oak. Straw man fallacy.

  18. Fail.

    We cannot kick start life as described by Jeff Greason. Mars can never have an atmosphere because it has no magnetosphere – the solar wind strips off any build up of gas.

  19. @spoddie It's rather Mar's has a weak magnetosphere. It doesn't have enough Thorium mass to sustain an atmosphere for longer than 1000 yrs. If however Thorium mass is added it can sustain an atmosphere permanently.

    /watch?v=WKG6wZtcVVQ

  20. @jaeLAX23 I love hearing from crackpots, especially thorium crackpots. Shall we just back up a truck full of thorium and dump it into Mars' core? Can you explain in your own words how thorium can sustain an atmosphere? Please use scientific principles rather than fancy video effects.

  21. @spoddie Having a bad day? I can send you a PDF if you want. Shoot me an email address. In my own words though, well in short, many factors go into a planets ability to retain an atmosphere, e.g. mass, distance from sun, rate of heat loss, geomagnetism etc. Molten metals moving in complex convection currents generate geomagnetism. Thorium, uranium and K-40 enable these convection currents and in addition the radiodecay heat keeps the core hot and the cycle flowing. Earth is Th reactor

  22. @spoddie Again I'll be more than happy to send you the PDF. And the LFTR works! It was up and running for 4yrs before the Cold War necessitated it's shutdown. And here's the nuclear engineer community discussing it's viability. From what I understand, if the political will was present these reactors could be rolled out in 5 yrs time.

    bravenewclimate(dot)com/2011/11/17/ifr-lftr-exchange/

  23. There is no western civilization … only human civilization. our story is theirs and theirs is ours. It will be one species sharing the common identity of the same homeworld that will be leaving Earth for the stars …

  24. That denies all the distinct ways humans have lived (and still live), especially prior to rapid travel and communication. If you believe it's all just one, you've not traveled, and/or paid attention in history/social studies class…

  25. And yet there's Venus…

    Also no magnetosphere, closer to the source of the solar wind, yet more atmosphere than it knows what to do with.

    It's not *all* about the magnetosphere…

  26. I admit that there are distinct lines that can be drawn in between people and nations (from culture to religion) but what i'm saying is that if we are to survive, our loyalties must be given to the entire civilization not just a particular flag, I dont deny history, merely just considering what it will take to move forward
    try reading Carl Sagan's Cosmos, you will know what I refer to …

  27. I've seen lots of ideas about how to do exploration & development in the 'cosmosphere'; everything in natural principles that can be calculated to the 10th decimal place. The big challenge has ironically be getting the financing to do it. But its amazing how the cost have been coming down when you get better at it. The next hurdle will be how to close the loop between Earth & Space? Space stations, lunar sanctuary bases, asteroid & comet industrial sites? I think its time to do big things.

  28. I completely agree with his point on NASA. NASA and the ESA's lack of ambition and reliance on the US or European governments for funding is one of the reasons why i'm working toward becoming an aerospace engineer.

  29. @MONDARIZDK If you scale for time – it is. The sierra Nevada and their surrounding area were some of the most inhospitable areas to man on the planet. The same is true of mars (except it isn't on earth – obviously) and hence it is proportionately by time an quality challenge, there are already proposals for terraforming mars which involve deliberate pollution – technology we know we have. All it requires is the competition he discusses driving technology forward and making it cheaper. The same

  30. wait, are you trying to bring abortion into the comments on a video about the potential of man, a little bass ackwards isn't it?

  31. Capitalism and competition. WTF? Why its not like this guys company and theyr competitors join forces to work togeather to get to a way batter solution than they seperatly would. More minds focused on the same goal and cooperating means better and faster solutions.

  32. But that's why NASA failed Arnold, lots of great minds but no motivation to succeed, the culture becomes one of protecting your job and not offending anyone (by challenging ideas). Healthy competition is co-operative, not focused on damaging the others efforts but on improving your own. Do you think Usain Bolt wold run as fast as he does if he had no-one to race against? Love alone will not get it done, hard work is what's required.

  33. Hedonism is not just the pleasure of the moment. Not Epicurean hedonism anyway. Hard work is important to set up a great meal and an intelligent cannot over indulge with pleasure when they consider the ensuing hangover. Without pleasure what is life?

  34. I watched it again. You are still proseytizing a philosophy, not a business. even if the cost per pound to orbit were a hundred times less than shuttle, what are you going to transport there and back OUTSIDE of communication satellitess? Rich people who want a thrill? Surely you're not going to haul out the solar power satellite? That old chesnut may see it's day, but not for a long, long time.
    If you want to get sentimental about space, go to the JPL website and see those images from Mars

  35. Mars is a big job. I personally am convinced that its possible to build comfortable, self sufficient, city sized habitats in space sooner. There are a few likeminded people around, and that may be enough.
    Space industry, to produce biofuels or scoot around mining asteroids, has potential, considering the scale possible.
    Any good business needs to be based on a philosophy (like apple or even samsung)
    & I don't want to get sentimental – but very practical, and do it.

  36. Nano satellites is pretty big business. More would like them but can't afford them. Satellite repair would also be something to consider. If cost to reach it is so low then making them modular and repairable is suddenly conceivable. Garbage collection is another consideration. There are many satellites in low and high orbits plus junk that is floating and a hazard. Have the UN pay for the service. Many countries would be happy to contribute. Plenty of things to do out there.

  37. 100.0000000000000 is still 100. Anyways, yes, many people starve and die because of the leaders who should be feeding them are so vain that they only take care of themselves, not their citizens. And they deceive the world (but not really) and their citizens by saying that they are actually helping. Again, not really.

  38. xD wired world view man… if u think leaders exists because they should feed people u should do an reality check. watch davins nightmare e.g. 😉
    i´m with u in the last part of u comment, but i think this matches every time. understand this and it will be obvious that leaders don´t should feed people, etc. it´s simply not their job.
    100.000 = 100000
    100,000 = 100

  39. give you a good advice, if you want to go to the space in a much more affordable cost. Study about antigravity, either be keshe technology or searl effect

  40. Life is better of course for you. You are the rich, not the middle worker. But thinking about the poor in other country.

  41. why dont u greedy pigs take a pay cut, say 50% off, and the mission wont cost that much….you dont need $100 per hour, try doing it for $10/hour…..now the mission costs 1/10 the price! problem sovled,…Nobel Prize for me????

  42. Very interesting! Civilization can always get better. I'm not sure about the political message however. It's true that NASA has been getting lackluster results lately, but with so little funding how can we be surprised?

    Not every accomplishment can happen with a purely capitalistic society. We need government projects, like the Apollo missions, to tackle the expensive and difficult challenges that corporations motivated by profit never will.

  43. Hi John, first: NASA scientists have PhD's, doctorates, engineering degrees, master degrees in very specific fields and they can probably earn more money working in the private sector but they don't. Second, Jeff Greason said at earned more at INTEL than he did with NASA at 1.10 !! Don't call him a greedy pig. Think before you type..

  44. Competition is an aspect of a social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is quite an inhumane concept. Don't forget that some things could never be established without teamwork e.g. the ISS.

  45. so the whole point of the project is to bring capitalism into space and tap into abundant resources to fuel our over-consumption? i surely hope this project will fail because people don't want to support that idea (that would mean that we are indeed ready for space). if, however, just like this man we are but monkeys playing with toys in a society plagued with bad motives (the motives to conquer space for monetary gain), then we should sit down and shut the fuck up, grow up and only then, when we are a little more mature, venture into space. otherwise we'll pollute, pillage and ruin the environment of space the same way we are destroying this planet at the moment. fuck this guy, fuck this video, fuck his motive.

  46. Building rocket-planes the could go to sub-orbit & beyond? I have got to thank the folks who gave us the microchip; a proven strategy where you produce a computer from starting with ungainly iron & lead filing cabinets with vacuum tubes and telephone trunk lines that needs a power plant to operate and mathematicians with PH.Ds to organize the inputs… now you can by a whole system cheaper than an HD television and have no more training than basic typing with a point and click mouse?
    This is where you use better materials, lesser complexity of use and the whole thing dovetails down to something everybody can use.
    What a way to build a world.

  47. yeah capitalism took us to the moon too right??? smh capitalism is the reason we havent been back!!!

  48. all these capitalists will do is take us into orbit..whoopdyyyy do..they cant go to the moon or beyond ..you need a govt and a nasa for that 

  49. And the Cannae Drive works, though scientists have yet to understand why. Possibilities are opening up. Maybe a powered version of the Voyager probes will be possible, or some combination of powered and sail driven vehicles…

  50. space travel is a death myth , humanity has better thing to do then occupy about space when it can't occupied itself

  51. Just reading some of these comments makes me wish I was young again and knew it all or maybe go back to college and be a liberal arts major……same difference lol

  52. I loved this talk. He did, and is doing, what I only dreamed about. And I think he is right: it's now or never to develop commercial transport to space.

  53. Dude last time i checked govt were for big projects an if u think capatalism or some profit seeking corporations is going to improve saftey your a f moron

  54. This man sounds like he had the exact same experience as Elon Musk and went through the exact same thought processes and drew the same conclusions. It's kind of incredible

  55. This was an amazing speech , really eye opening , I wonder why this haven't more clicks, It should have more… I go share it now

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