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  • Chris Anderson: So two months ago, something crazy happened.

  • Can you talk us through this, because this caught so many people's attention?

  • Gwynne Shotwell: I'll stay quiet for the beginning,

  • and then I'll start talking.

  • (Video) Voices: Five, four, three, two, one.

  • (Cheering)

  • Woman: Liftoff. Go Falcon Heavy.

  • GS: So this was such an important moment for SpaceX.

  • With the Falcon 9 and now the Falcon Heavy,

  • we can launch into orbit

  • any payload that has previously been conceived or is conceived right now.

  • We've got a couple of launches of Falcon Heavy later this year,

  • so this had to go right.

  • It was the first time we flew it,

  • and the star of the show, of course,

  • brother and sister side boosters landing.

  • I was excited.

  • (Laughter)

  • Thanking my team.

  • By the way, there's maybe a thousand people

  • standing around me right there.

  • And Starman.

  • Starman did not steal the show, though --

  • the boosters did.

  • CA: (Laughter)

  • CA: There had to be some payload -- why not put a Tesla into space?

  • GS: Exactly. It was perfect.

  • CA: Gwynne, let's wind the clock back.

  • I mean, how did you end up an engineer and President of SpaceX?

  • Were you supernerdy as a girl?

  • GS: I don't think I was nerdy,

  • but I was definitely doing the things that the girls weren't doing.

  • I asked my mom, who was an artist, when I was in third grade,

  • how a car worked,

  • so she had no idea so she gave me a book, and I read it,

  • and sure enough, my first job out of my mechanical engineering degree

  • was with Chrysler Motors in the automotive industry.

  • But I actually got into engineering not because of that book

  • but because my mom took me to a Society of Women Engineers event,

  • and I fell in love with the mechanical engineer that spoke.

  • She was doing really critical work,

  • and I loved her suit.

  • (Laughter)

  • And that's what a 15-year-old girl connects with.

  • And I used to shy away from telling that story,

  • but if that's what caused me to be an engineer --

  • hey, I think we should talk about that.

  • CA: Sixteen years ago, you became employee number seven at SpaceX,

  • and then over the next years,

  • you somehow built a multi-billion-dollar relationship with NASA,

  • despite the fact that SpaceX's first three launches blew up.

  • I mean, how on earth did you do that?

  • GS: So actually, selling rockets is all about relationships

  • and making a connection with these customers.

  • When you don't have a rocket to sell,

  • what's really important is selling your team,

  • selling the business savvy of your CEO --

  • that's not really hard to sell these days --

  • and basically, making sure that any technical issue that they have

  • or any concern, you can address right away.

  • So I think it was helpful for me to be an engineer.

  • I think it was helpful to my role of running sales for Elon.

  • CA: And currently, a big focus of the company

  • is, I guess, kind of a race with Boeing

  • to be the first to provide the service to NASA

  • of actually putting humans into orbit.

  • Safety considerations obviously come to the fore, here.

  • How are you sleeping?

  • GS: I actually sleep really well. I'm a good sleeper, that's my best thing.

  • But I think the days leading up to our flying crew

  • will probably be a little sleepless.

  • But really, fundamentally, safety comes in the design

  • of the system that you're going to fly people on,

  • and so we've been working for years,

  • actually, almost a decade, on this technology.

  • We're taking the Dragon cargo spaceship

  • and we're upgrading it to be able to carry crew.

  • And as I said, we've been engineering in these safety systems

  • for quite some time.

  • CA: So isn't it that there's one system that actually allows instant escape

  • if there's a problem.

  • GS: That's right. It's called the launch escape system.

  • CA: I think we have that. Let's show that.

  • GS: We've got a video of a test that we ran in 2015.

  • So this simulated having a really bad day on the pad.

  • Basically, you want the capsule to get out of Dodge.

  • You want it to get away from the rocket

  • that had a bad day right below it.

  • This is if there was an issue on the pad.

  • We also will be doing another demonstration later this year

  • on if we have an issue with the rocket during flight.

  • CA: And those rockets have another potential function as well, eventually.

  • GS: Yeah, so the launch escape system for Dragon is pretty unique.

  • It's an integrated launch escape system.

  • It's basically a pusher,

  • so the propellant system and the thrusters are integrated into the capsule,

  • and so if it detects a rocket problem, it pushes the capsule away.

  • Capsule safety systems in the past have been like tractor pullers,

  • and the reason we didn't want to do that

  • is that puller needs to come off before you can safely reenter that capsule,

  • so we wanted to eliminate, in design, that possibility of failure.

  • CA: I mean, SpaceX has made the regular reusability of rockets

  • seem almost routine,

  • which means you've done something

  • that no national space program, for example,

  • has been able to achieve.

  • How was that possible?

  • GS: I think there's a couple of things --

  • there's a million things, actually --

  • that have allowed SpaceX to be successful.

  • The first is that we're kind of standing on the shoulders of giants. Right?

  • We got to look at the rocket industry and the developments to date,

  • and we got to pick the best ideas,

  • leverage them.

  • We also didn't have technology that we had to include

  • in our vehicle systems.

  • So we didn't have to design around legacy components

  • that maybe weren't the most reliable or were particularly expensive,

  • so we really were able to let physics drive the design of these systems.

  • CA: I mean, there are other programs started from scratch.

  • That last phrase you said there, you let physics drive the design,

  • what's an example of that?

  • GS: There's hundreds of examples, actually, of that,

  • but basically, we got to construct the vehicle design

  • from, really, a clean sheet of paper,

  • and we got to make decisions that we wanted to make.

  • The tank architecture -- it's a common dome design.

  • Basically it's like two beer cans stacked together,

  • one full of liquid oxygen,

  • one full of RP,

  • and that basically saved weight.

  • It allowed us to basically take more payload for the same design.

  • One of the other elements of the vehicle that we're flying right now

  • is we do use densified liquid oxygen and densified RP,

  • so it's ultracold,

  • and it allows you to pack more propellent into the vehicle.

  • It is done elsewhere,

  • probably not to the degree that we do it,

  • but it adds a lot of margin to the vehicle,

  • which obviously adds reliability.

  • CA: Gwynne, you became President of SpaceX 10 years ago, I think.

  • What's it been like to work so closely with Elon Musk?

  • GS: So I love working for Elon.

  • I've been doing it for 16 years this year, actually.

  • I don't think I'm dumb enough to do something for 16 years

  • that I don't like doing.

  • He's funny

  • and fundamentally without him saying anything

  • he drives you to do your best work.

  • He doesn't have to say a word.

  • You just want to do great work.

  • CA: You might be the person best placed to answer this question,

  • which has puzzled me,

  • which is to shed light on this strange unit of time

  • called "Elon time."

  • For example, last year, I asked Elon, you know,

  • when Tesla would auto-drive across America,

  • and he said by last December,

  • which is definitely true, if you take Elon time into account.

  • So what's the conversion ratio between Elon time and real time?

  • (Laughter)

  • GS: You put me in a unique position, Chris.

  • Thanks for that.

  • There's no question that Elon is very aggressive on his timelines,

  • but frankly, that drives us to do things better and faster.

  • I think all the time and all the money in the world

  • does not yield the best solution,

  • and so putting that pressure on the team to move quickly is really important.

  • CA: It feels like you play kind of a key intermediary role here.

  • I mean, he sets these crazy goals that have their impact,

  • but, in other circumstances, might blow up a team

  • or set impossible expectations.

  • It feels like you've found a way of saying, "Yes, Elon,"

  • and then making it happen in a way that is acceptable

  • both to him and to your company, to your employees.

  • GS: There is two really important realizations for that.

  • First of all, when Elon says something, you have to pause

  • and not immediately blurt out, "Well, that's impossible,"

  • or, "There's no way we're going to do that. I don't know how."

  • So you zip it, and you think about it,

  • and you find ways to get that done.

  • And the other thing I realized,

  • and it made my job satisfaction substantially harder.

  • So I always felt like my job was to take these ideas

  • and kind of turn them into company goals, make them achievable,

  • and kind of roll the company over from this steep slope, get it comfortable.

  • And I noticed every time I felt like we were there,

  • we were rolling over, people were getting comfortable,

  • Elon would throw something out there,

  • and all of a sudden, we're not comfortable

  • and we're climbing that steep slope again.

  • But then once I realized that that's his job,

  • and my job is to get the company close to comfortable

  • so he can push again and put us back on that slope,

  • then I started liking my job a lot more,

  • instead of always being frustrated.

  • CA: So if I estimated that the conversation ratio

  • for Elon time to your time is about 2x,

  • am I a long way out there?

  • GS: That's not terrible, and you said it, I didn't.

  • (Laughter)

  • CA: You know, looking ahead,

  • one huge initiative

  • SpaceX is believed to be, rumored to be working on,

  • is a massive network of literally thousands of low earth orbit satellites

  • to provide high-bandwidth, low-cost internet connection

  • to every square foot of planet earth.

  • Is there anything you can tell us about this?

  • GS: We actually don't chat very much about this particular project,

  • not because we're hiding anything,

  • but this is probably one of the most challenging

  • if not the most challenging project we've undertaken.

  • No one has been successful

  • deploying a huge constellation for internet broadband,

  • or basically for satellite internet,

  • and I don't think physics is the difficulty here.

  • I think we can come up with the right technology solution,

  • but we need to make a business out of it,

  • and it'll cost the company about 10 billion dollars or more

  • to deploy this system.

  • And so we're marching steadily along

  • but we're certainly not claiming victory yet.

  • CA: I mean, the impact of that, obviously, if that happened to the world,

  • of connectivity everywhere, would be pretty radical,

  • and perhaps mainly for good --

  • I mean, it changes a lot if suddenly everyone can connect cheaply.

  • GS: Yeah, there's no question it'll change the world.

  • CA: How much of a worry is it,

  • and how much of a drag on the planning is it,

  • are concerns just about space junk?

  • People worry a lot about this.

  • This would a huge increase in the total number of satellites in orbit.

  • Is that a concern?

  • GS: So space debris is a concern, there's no question --

  • not because it's so likely to happen,

  • but the consequences of it happening are pretty devastating.

  • You could basically spew a bunch of particles in orbit

  • that could take out that orbit from being useful for decades or longer.

  • So as a matter of fact,

  • we are required to bring down our second stage after every mission

  • so it doesn't end up being a rocket carcass orbiting earth.

  • So you really need to be a good steward of that.

  • CA: So despite the remarkable success there

  • of that Falcon Heavy rocket,

  • you're actually not focusing on that as your future development plan.

  • You're doubling down to a much bigger rocket