What I Learned from the Falcon 9 Landing / by Samuel Brownson

Pale Blue Dot - Photo of the Earth from 4 Billion Miles away; Courtesy of NASA's Voyager 1 Probe. Feb 14th, 1990.

Pale Blue Dot - Photo of the Earth from 4 Billion Miles away; Courtesy of NASA's Voyager 1 Probe. Feb 14th, 1990.

On December 21st last year, the Falcon 9 landed in Cape Canaveral, FL and history was made. This was the first rocket to exit the Earth's atmosphere and return (mostly) intact. 'Mostly' because it was a two-stage rocket, meaning that it separated into two parts to deliver the payload, with half returning to the Earth. 'Exit the Earth's atmosphere' meaning send stuff up into space. This was the result of a lot of hard work and creativity and I'm convinced that there's some parallel here between this event and what it is to be successful as a musician and frankly as a human being today. 

The historical significance might not seem like much at first glance. This is, after all, just another satellite cluttering up the region of space above our atmosphere. Yes, but it's the first one to do that and come back. The economic benefits of insuring that something like this works consistency can best be summed by this metaphor I've seen tossed around these days: current spaceflight is so inefficient it's like throwing away the airplane after every flight. Suddenly the Falcon ain't so boring hmm?

But there's another side to this story that I think is significant and it's at the core of what this post is all about. On January 17th, the Falcon 9 landed and then failed to deploy one of it's landing legs, tipping over and exploding on the drone landing pad. For this second attempt, Space X was trying to land the rocket on their computer powered landing boat. The idea being that it's much more fail safe to have something that can go out and catch the damn thing rather than always hoping you can land the rocket in the same place. There was some ice build up and the landing leg failed to deploy causing the rocket to tip over. This wasn't something they anticipated but it's definitely something they're going to plan for from here on out. This was just the most recent crash in a history of crashes while the team figures out how this is going to work. 

Space X has a very interesting history. Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk ("the PayPal guy"), the goal was simple: start a private company that would significantly reduce the costs of space flight; and because he's secretly a supervillian, fund and sustain a colony on Mars. Seriously, this dude is great. The company started a year after 9/11, when the country was working it's way into another endless war and was slowly pulling the plug on wasteful such as NASA and like, dreaming. Musk took one look at this and said, "Fuck it, I'll do this myself". They have since become the first private organization to deliver a satellite, to send a payload to the ISS, and now to re-use a freaking rocket. But what does this have to do with us?

The 21st century has shown a rise in alternative sources of power. No I'm not talking about things like this insane invention from a different company run by Mr. Musk. I'm referring to the way we've been restructuring the way we view and engage with providers, entrepreneurs, and organizations that innovate. From NASA to Space X and Virgin; from the big farms to your backyard; and here in the music business from the Big Labels to the small labels to, well, the no labels. People are becoming increasingly more creative in how they move to get shit done and sustain their lives in the process. 

The Falcon landing stirred me even more when I thought about in the context of this quote by Neil deGrasse Tyson given to Congress to encourage them to give more money to NASA. If you don't have 5 minutes to spend listening (and shame on you if that's the case) I'll get to the meat of it. We got into the space race because we were trying to flex our wealth and strength during the Cold War. As the war died off and the Russian interest in space diminished, we lost our interest. Our motivations became economic ones and we (stupidly) assumed that there was just no money to be had in space. As Neil beautifully put: "we stopped dreaming." 

So what is so inspiring about Musk's commitment to innovation in spite of all this? Because it's not about the fucking money, it's not about flexing anything; it's about that simple drive that pushes us to inch past another limit. And another. And another. Until we've landed on the Moon. On Venus. On Mars. On a goddamn Asteroid. Until limits are no longer a reality but instead a challenge, another benchmark. The reward then is not any cheap financial gain, or visions of grandeur. But instead the reward of conquering the impossible. "We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy but because it is hard."

I write this one week from my 25th birthday while I think about what success means to me. Or on a deeper level, what success feels like. In one sense I think it is dreaming and continuing to dream in the face of all else. To crash and burn and get back up again, and then crash and burn some more. Slowly killing everything except the drive to get up one more time. There will always be a reason to get up and there will always be a way to crash again. We tell ourselves shoot for the stars because it is the highest we can possibly reach. Because in setting out in that direction we discover and conquer imaginable unknowns and find the inspiration to dream higher and higher. 

Let's make a pact together:

Let's start dreaming again.