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Elon Musk Is the Madman We Need

We love to hate him, and we hate to love him. But the South Africa-born Canadian-American engineer/entrepreneur/impresario is a man fit for our times.

In the recent National Geographic Channel six-part docudrama MARS, Olivier Martinez played the “Elon Musk” role.

The French actor also famously played the guy who shacked up with Richard Gere’s wife in the Academy Award-nominated 2002 erotic thriller Unfaithful.

Such a role may have prepared him to play the tech lothario. In real life, Musk married striking actress Talulah Riley — most recently of the hit HBO sci-fi/western thriller Westworld — twice.

And so it goes for the superstar CEO and product architect of electric car/energy storage powerhouse Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), a nerd/prodigy turned handsome entrepreneur who even lived the cliché of being bullied and beaten up as a youngster.

This curious amalgam — part Dr. Strangelove, part Dr. Emmett Brown, part Norville Barnes, part Warren Beatty — embodies the spirit of “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

(No, that’s not a direct Gandhi quote. The Mahatma actually said: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change toward him… We need not wait to see what others do.”)

Despite the multiple failures of Musk’s main venture, Tesla, to meet official production guidance, raw growth remains impressive.

For example, on Tuesday, Tesla announced fourth-quarter vehicle deliveries of 22,200, bringing 2016 deliveries to 76,230. That’s nearly 4,000 below the bottom of the company’s full-year guidance range of 80,000–90,000 vehicles.

This curious amalgam — part Dr. Strangelove, part Dr. Emmett Brown, part Norville Barnes, part Warren Beatty — embodies the spirit of “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Only once during the past four years has Tesla met or exceeded its targets — in 2013, when it delivered 22,442, versus guidance of 20,000.

So yeah, another miss… but, oh yeah deliveries were up 50.5% year over year in 2016.

In tandem with ever-higher targets and the asymptotic approach of them — more important, even — is Musk’s messianic pursuit of making Earth a better place to live… up to and until we can leave this planet and colonize the cosmos, namely Mars.

Interpreted by many observers as a move of desperation, Musk’s June 2016 decision to merge another of his companies, SolarCity, into Tesla is indeed an apotheosis: Clean energy comes together, electric cars and sun-fed high-capacity storage batteries combining supply chains and sharing the same storefronts.

Musk is also CEO and chief technology officer of SpaceX, which is getting back to the launchpad on Sunday after a five-month layoff following the September 1, 2016, explosion of its Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX’s and Musk’s grand ambition is to put men and women on Mars.

In the interim, he and his company would like to more than double the number of Earth-orbiting satellites in order “to create a global internet hotspot 200 times faster than today’s average connection speed,” writes Vanessa Bates Ramirez at SingularityHub.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Langley Research Center continues to explore ways of making the Red Planet habitable for humanity.

The space agency’s latest concept is basically an inflatable igloo that solves multiple Martian residential problems:

The “Mars Ice Home” is a large inflatable torus, a shape similar to an inner tube, which is surrounded by a shell of water ice. The Mars Ice Home design has several advantages that make it an appealing concept. It is lightweight and can be transported and deployed with simple robotics, then filled with water before the crew arrives. It incorporates materials extracted from Mars, and because water in the Ice Home could potentially be converted to rocket fuel for the Mars Ascent Vehicle, the structure itself doubles as a storage tank that can be refilled for the next crew.

Another critical benefit is that water, a hydrogen-rich material, is an excellent shielding material for galactic cosmic rays — and many areas of Mars have abundant water ice just below the surface. Galactic cosmic rays are one of the biggest risks of long stays on Mars. This high-energy radiation can pass right through the skin, damaging cells or DNA along the way that can mean an increased risk for cancer later in life or, at its worst, acute radiation sickness.

Musk’s Earth-bound projects have already benefitted from government help in the form of subsidies and tax breaks for “green” projects.

His Martian exploit will also be done in partnership with tax-supported government entities, including NASA.

But he’s undeniably the most prominent independent force driving us skyward, though his lofty ambitions aren’t without peer or competitor.

“For me to be excited and inspired about the future, it’s got to be the first option. It’s got to be: We’re going to be a spacefaring civilization.”

Of course, Google and Facebook have their own plans to “wrap the Earth in internet.”

China recently launched its biggest-ever rocket, part of the Middle Kingdom’s effort to do stuff like establish space stations and put spy satellites in geostationary orbit.

The LM-5 will also power a lunar soil return mission and the launch of a Martian rover within the next several years.

Over the long term, the Chinese may even undertake a manned lunar mission.

China’s private space industry is also in on the commercial satellite and space tourism games.

In an interview aired during one of the “docu-” segments of MARS, Musk said, “The future of humanity is fundamentally going to bifurcate along one of two directions: Either we’re going to become a multiplanet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we’re going be stuck on one planet until some eventual extinction event.

“In order for me to be excited and inspired about the future, it’s got to be the first option. It’s got to be: We’re going to be a spacefaring civilization.”

As he said when he detailed the lynchpin of his grandiose Martian plan on September 27, 2016, SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System, Musk merely wants to “make Mars seem possible in our lifetimes.”

It’s about raising expectations.

And that’s a good thing.

Old Things New

For Doug Jones, making “Old Things New” is a daily endeavor.

At his blog Logarithmic History, Doug, an anthropologist at the University of Utah, explores “the history of the universe — from the Big Bang to the end of the year — day by day.”

Here’s Doug to explain Logarithmic History:

Compressing the history of the universe into one year is not a new idea: Both Carl Sagan and Neil de Grasse Tyson did it, and you can get a 2015 Cosmic Calendar that shows the same idea. What’s different about the version here? The earlier work uses a linear scale, dividing the age of the universe by the number of days in a year, so that every calendar day covers a constant 37.8 million years in the history of the universe. This is useful for dramatizing just how long “billions and billions” of years really is. But it means that most of the events that people are most interested in — including all of the evolution of biological and cultural complexity — happen late in the year. The Earth forms in early September. Dinosaurs go extinct on December 30, and all of human evolution and human history happen late on December 31.

At Logarithmic History, by contrast, I use a logarithmic scale. Other folks have proposed putting the history of the universe on a logarithmic scale; here I map that scale onto the course of one year. If you’re a bit hazy about logarithms, all you have to know is that each day of the year covers a shorter period in the history of the universe than the preceding day (5.46% shorter). January 1 begins with the Big Bang and covers a full 751 million years. January 2 covers the next 711 million years, and so on. Succeeding days cover shorter and shorter succeeding intervals in the history of the universe. At this rate, a given calendar date covers only a 10th as much time as a date 41 days earlier.

On this logarithmic scale, Earth is formed on January 20, trilobites arise toward the end of February, and dinosaurs meet their doom on April 6. The middle of the year finds Homo erectus giving way to early versions of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. October begins with King David and ends with Columbus. By December 7, we reach the year of the Beatles’ first LP (1963). December 31 covers just one year, 2016; calendar time and history-of-the-universe time finally coincide at midnight.

Many of the world’s religions follow a yearly calendar of sacred days; many nations have their annual holidays. Logarithmic History is a chance to celebrate, over the course of a year, our species’ discovery of the deep history of the universe.

On Wednesday, I read about exactly why we are stardust.

Smart Investing,

David Dittman

Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily

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