Elon Musk’s idea for commercial rocket travel on Earth would be a logistical nightmare

 In Science

Elon Musk is obsessed with traveling between any two points on Earth in less than 30 minutes. Whether by hyperloop (above and below ground) or interplanetary rocket, the billionaire technologist is convinced that no trip between any two cities on the planet should last longer than an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

His frustration with our current outdated methods of transportation is understandable. After all, we’ve been stuck with four modes of travel (road, air, water, and rail) for almost a century. Why not think bigger? No one can ever accuse Musk of thinking small about, well, anything. And while throwing cold water on his ideas has become a media cottage industry unto itself, his latest pitch to connect cities by suborbital rocket needs much closer scrutiny.

Musk himself was pretty light on details when he proposed the idea at the tail end of his speech at a space industry conference yesterday. Basically, it boils down to using SpaceX’s forthcoming mega-rocket (codenamed Big Fucking Rocket, or BFR for short) to lift a massive spaceship into orbit around the Earth. The ship would then settle down on floating landing pads near major cities. Both the new rocket and spaceship are currently theoretical, though Musk did say that he hopes to begin construction on the rocket in the next six to nine months.

He didn’t say much about the enormous risks passengers would face by boarding one of these rockets for a breezy trip from Shanghai to Paris or Dubai. SpaceX has been successfully landing its Falcon 9 rockets for more than a year, but getting there involved many explosions. (Just check out this recent blooper reel.) There have been more successes than failures, but still, the current rate in which Musk’s rockets explode is unacceptable for any commercial standpoint. A dramatic increase in passenger safety would be needed before anyone would feel safe enough stepping on board a SpaceX rocket.

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