SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk tried to thrust himself back into the headlines this week following a slew of negative press about Tesla’s safety, his actions against employees trying to unionize, and his relationship with Canadian musician Grimes. That last bit isn’t so much a negative as it is mind-boggling for folks online.
His motives this time seemed both noble in its intention and actually meant to show the positive side of his creative genius. Musk, along with his teams at SpaceX and The Boring Company, quickly got to work on a mini-submarine contraption in order to help rescue the 12 trapped soccer players and their coach from a cave in Thailand. They didn’t need it, of course, but the thought counts a bit — at least until you leave your contraption at the cave and question the experts who just safely rescued all the trapped individuals and were still mourning the loss of one of their own on Friday.
Elon Musk arrives on scene in his electric gyrocopter only to see everyone exiting the cave.— #Official Red Hen (@lbourgie) July 10, 2018
"Our work here is done. Give us some juice and let's get out here, babe."
GRIMES, IN THE BACK SEAT: *R2D2 noises*
Thailand’s Navy SEALs had already rescued most of the kids from the cave when Musk arrived on the scene. And he still got a lot of the credit on Twitter according to Business Insider, which is a head-scratcher given the response of Thai officials to his mini-sub according to The New York Times:
On Tuesday, the head of the search operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn, until recently the provincial governor, rejected the notion that Mr. Musk’s custom-made submersible was suitable for the extraction.
“I assure you that the equipment he brought to help us is not practical for our mission,” Mr. Narongsak said. “Even though the equipment has state of the art technology, it does not fit our mission in the cave.”
Yes, this probably stings a bit and Musk didn’t just go out to build the thing himself in his backyard with Grimes handing him tools. He had engineers helping and folks devoted time trying to make it work. That said, we are all watching the same news. The plan that was in motion and, while very dangerous, it was also very successful. Musk was celebratory and full of praise on Twitter once the rescue was complete — which is good:
Great news that they made it out safely. Congratulations to an outstanding rescue team!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 10, 2018
But from there, Musk went on to defend his actions and got a little odd — which is bad — sharing that he had a direct correspondence with Dick Stanton, the British diver who first made contact with the kids according to The Guardian, urging him to continue with the mini-sub:
The former Thai provincial governor (described inaccurately as “rescue chief”) is not the subject matter expert. That would be Dick Stanton, who co-led the dive rescue team. This is our direct correspondence: pic.twitter.com/dmC9l3jiZR— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 10, 2018
From there he continued on to discuss how the mini-sub could actually make the journey into the cave, has other uses for the future like “rescuing vulnerable patients in dangerous environments, particularly if water, toxic gas or dangerous bacteria/viruses present,” and also said before going to Thailand that it could be an escape pod in space with some modifications. All very cool and nice, but it’s the timing that could use some work.
One could certainly understand going on the defensive, and it also plays into the narrative that Musk is under attack by the media, but he then brings up a good reason why he doesn’t need to. He’s a billionaire. He did something others could not and there is no need to go peacocking around. But then he did and it’s something that didn’t sit well with folks:
you literally are a billionaire— erin 👑 (@eehouls) July 10, 2018
it is not ironic in any way
you weren't called a billionaire until you were… a billionaire
if you think it's is a negative label, maybe it's because it means that you're hoarding money and resources from the rest of the world 🌈 https://t.co/2POfp9Msy0
I’ve never retaliated against union organizers or hired an army of lobbyists to loot the public coffers, then got hairplugs and pretended I made my fortune through ingenuity https://t.co/dNHqiNN6YK— Dan O'Sullivan (@Bro_Pair) July 11, 2018
While it is tough to criticize Musk for trying to go a good deed with the rescue mission in Thailand, it is the neighboring response and motivations behind it all that seems to give people pause.
If I am a narcissist (which might be true), at least I am a useful one— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 8, 2018
This roundup over at Mashable really captures the grey of the entire ordeal and Musk’s general demeanor towards criticism of his work. There’s plenty of good involved in what he’s doing now and aims to do in the future, but that doesn’t mean he’s above questioning. It also doesn’t mean he needs to get defensive whenever something doesn’t move in his favor. He could likely buy and sell me, buy me again, launch me to Mars, and then laugh while watching the live stream of me in a capsule is beamed back to Earth. Why get touchy?
At least the sub is in the cave. Hopefully, it can at least get some use and make everybody happy.