While reading Apple News today, I ran across a peculiar story in The Washington Post (owned by Elon Musk’s largest competitor for space activities, Jeff Bezos): Musk cut internet to Ukraine’s military as it was attacking Russian fleet.
Musk’s position is
“How am I in this war? Musk asked,” according to Isaacson. “Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do peaceful things, not drone strikes.”
In February, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, told reporters something very similar.
“We were really pleased to be able to provide Ukraine connectivity and help them in their fight for freedom,” she said. “It was never intended to be weaponized, but the Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.”
No kidding. The Russians have quietly suggested that Starlink and other low-orbit satellites could be disabled en masse by blowing up a few and letting the debris take out the rest.
Bezos and the US security establishment have other ideas, using Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights as their spokesman:
“You would expect people with this kind of corporate power to operate from self interest or to make mistakes. But you would not expect someone who provides an ally with crucial technology and then snatches it back when they are using it in the middle of a war. Whatever responsible corporate behavior is, that’s not it.”
Further menace ensues:
But the government is not helpless and has ways to rein companies in: “You can address a lot of those concerns through contracting mechanism or other legal agreements,” [says Brian Weeden, the director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation]
What’s extraordinary is that Musk appears to be one of the few technology golden geese that the USA has left (Apple Computers would be one).
That dominant position didn’t come easy. SpaceX was initially locked out of Pentagon launch contracts and had to sue the Air Force to be allowed to compete. It also fought to earn NASA as a customer, and now it is one of the space agency’s most reliable partners….
“You can always go faster than you think you can. Hands down,” Kiko Dontchev, SpaceX’s vice president of launch, said during a recent conference presentation. “There’s always time to gain. There’s always efficiencies to be brought. You think you went fast enough? … You can go faster. Every time my team is like, ‘Dude, we can’t go faster.’ You’re like, ‘Yes, you can.’ Move the goal posts. You’ll be surprised what happens when you challenge people.”
SpaceX has also thrived operating under what are known as fixed-priced contracts, where the contractor must eat any cost overruns. Traditionally, big Pentagon contracts operated under “cost-plus” contracts, allowing companies to be reimbursed if they went over their bid. That, critics have argued, has stifled innovation and allowed companies to move slowly.
Musk’s companies are the only ones the US government can rely on to take astronauts to space, are the only ones willing to sign up for fixed-price contracts. Now the US government turns to crush Musk for insisting on some kind of freedom of speech on X/Twitter and for refusing to be party to a losing war which may result in nuclear annihilation.