Unless you've stayed away from television, news sites, and social media for the last day, you already know that a SpaceX rocket burst into flames yesterday morning at Cape Canaveral, destroying the rocket and its payload, but fortunately causing no deaths or injuries. It's a setback for Mark Zuckerberg's plan to provide free connectivity to Facebook and other selected sites to sub-Saharan Africa, since part of that payload was a satellite that would have supplied the connectivity to the region.
While most of the world is referring to the event as an explosion, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk insisted to a questioner on Twitter that the event was really "a fast fire, not an explosion." The SpaceX website refers to the incident demurely as an "anomaly." Which seems like an awfully tame word for something that rattled windows as much as five miles away.
You may know all about the explosion, but did you know that was just one of many matters coming to a head for Musk this week? Consider:
Musk is about to announce improvements to Tesla's autonomous feature after a fatal crash.
Autopilot, you may recall, is the feature blamed for the death of a Tesla owner back in May, when the Tesla's cameras and radar failed to see a semi truck that had pulled in front of the car. The crash made headlines both because it was the first time a self-driving vehicle has been involved in a fatal collision and also because Tesla did not reveal the crash to investors or consumers--or the SEC--until months later.
Improvements to Autopilot would be welcome news for Tesla enthusiasts, and Musk tweeted on Wednesday that he was about to announce them. But after the SpaceX explosion the following day, the planned announcement appears to be pushed back until at least next week.
Tesla is raising more money to buy SolarCity.
Also on Wednesday, Tesla revealed in an SEC filing that it would need to raise more capital to complete its $2.4 billion purchase of SolarCity, a company Musk funded and of which he is chairman. Some have criticized the deal as forcing Tesla investors to fund SolarCity because the rooftop solar panel provider is running out of cash.
Meantime, the company plans to ship a new, affordable electric car next year.
The planned release of the Tesla Model 3 has been pushed back from this year to the end of 2017.
And it's building a $5 billion battery factory in Nevada.
The factory, already partially open, supplies the Tesla household and business batteries Musk hopes will help change the world. But the plan is for the factory to mass-produce lithium ion batteries that will power Tesla vehicles. Like many Musk-related projects, it is badly behind schedule.
Oh, yeah, and then there's the Hyperloop.
Musk has proposed a high-speed transportation system using reduced-air-pressure tubes that would shoot pods full of passengers from one location to another, specifically L.A. to San Francisco and vice versa. Though SpaceX is the impetus behind the project, it does not intend to actually build the Hyperloop, at least so far. Instead, it's been holding design competitions. The first round of competition has been completed. A second round, in which teams build actual pods to run in a mile-long tube or track that SpaceX will supply, was originally scheduled for last month, but has been pushed back to January 2017.
Are you keeping count? At one and the same time, Musk is trying to get us to Mars by 2025, create vacuum-powered transport up and down the West Coast, help Mark Zuckerberg put a satellite in space to wire some of the poorest areas of Africa, make safer autonomous cars, build a ginormous battery factory, and purchase a struggling green-tech company he helped launch.
These are worthy endeavors, every single one of them. And it's beyond commendable that Musk is throwing his considerable genius into the fight against global warming, an effort that too few billionaires have joined. But even the incomparable Steve Jobs ran only two major companies at a time.
I don't know how all this will play out. I do know that for any normal human--or even a superhuman one like Musk--this is much too much to try and tackle simultaneously. Things will go wrong. Fortunately, whatever mishap caused yesterday's "anomaly," no one got hurt.