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From PayPal to Planetary Travel

CowboyNeal posted more than 8 years ago | from the adventure-capitalists dept.

97

furnk writes "PayPal founder Elon Musk muses about his plans to send rockets to space and his eventual hopes for making life 'multi-planetary.' 'I said I wanted to take a large fortune and make it a small one, so I started a rocket business,' Musk said. SpaceX is not new, but in a speech at Virginia Tech, Musk talked about the company's troubles and its lawsuit against Boeing and Lockheed as he tries to get a slice of the valuable Air Force contracts."

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97 comments

Oh boy (2, Funny)

DrMrLordX (559371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790691)

I can't wait to start getting helpful unsolicited emails informing me that someone's attempted to use my SpaceX account that I don't even have to purchase tickets to Mars.

Damn phishers.

Almost as interesting... (1)

b0r1s (170449) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790914)

Are the numerous launch announcements followed shortly by the "why it didn't launch this time" emails shortly thereafter :)

Re:Oh boy (1)

Grumpy Wombat (899702) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790994)

Dear Mr DrMrLordX,

Your contact information was referred to me by one of my trusted contacts, whose name I am not at liberty to compromize. I would like to approach you with reguards to a profitable Business Proposal, reguarding the transfer of 10 Space flight tickets (Value $10,000,000 U.S. Dollars) into your custodianship. For reasons I am sure you will appreciate, I ask that you keep this commucation confidential, and avoid it falling into the hands of any agents of the Nigerian Secret Police that may be operating in Your area.

My name is Antonio C., and I am the Son of Dr. Chuichui Bello, the recently Assassinated President of SpaceX. If you have been following the events of my father's company over the last few years, you will remember the big scandal that took place when Dr. Bello was brutally gunned down in front of his office.

You see, my Father had a lot of enemies in the Government, who envied his great space flight tickets. It was they who removed him in the hope to gain access to the tickets which he accumulated over the years from bribe money offered by other space flight companies to stay out of government contracts. Fortunately, there was too much scandal and media coverage in the aftermath of Dr. Bello's murder for them to move openly to claim his tickets. This gave me and a few trusted people who were still loyal to my Father, an opportunity to move the tickets into a secret vault at the Second Central Bank of Nigeria.

While we managed to do this without the Nigerian Secret Police becoming aware of our activities, the tickets cannot remain in this vault, because at the end of the tax year, all contents will be reported to the Taxation Bureau of Nigeria, where our enemies have informants in their pay. The only option available to us, is transfering the tickets to a trusted partner who is a foreign national and cannot be linked to Dr. Chuichui Bello in any way.

As your name was brought to my attention by a very trusted contact in Nigeria's Foreign Office, I have been authorized by my partners to contact you with this Proposal. All that would be required of you is the use of your bank vault to perform a transfer of 10 (ten) Space flight tickets (value $10,000,000 U.S. Dollars). Once the tickets have been deposited, one of Dr. Bello's other Sons will contact you, at which point you will release 6 (six) tickets into his custody.

I am authorized by my Father's estate in Nigeria to offer you the remaining 4 (four) tickets ($4,000,000 U.S. Dollars value) as a compensation for your services. Because the tickets would only need to be in your bank vault for a few days, and your danger of being discovered by The Nigerian Secret Police is minimal, we believe the commission of FORTY PERCENT (40 %) by value to be more than generous.

Once I have received Your consent and Bank vault number, I will be able to make a claim under Your name with The Pan-African Insurance Company for the above tickets. We have a friend on the Board Of Oversight in that organization who has assured me that the claim will be processed without raising any red flags, and the tickets will be released into Your Bank Vault no later than within SEVEN (7) days from the time I receive your response.

I am at your disposal to answer any questions you may have about this Transaction, so don't hesitate to contact me via telephone, at +1-555-555-6366 (Just ask for Antonio). I eagerly await your reply, though I must ask you to treat this matter with great secrecy, lest you betray me and my partners to the agents of Nigerian Secret Police.

Respectfully Yours,

Antonio C.

User Agreement Violation! Your account is blocked (1)

leonbrooks (8043) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791475)

We are contacting you to remind you that: on 18 Feb 2006 our Account Review Team identified some unusual activity in your account, one or more attempts to log in to your SpaceX account from a foreign IP address. In accordance with SpaseX's User Agreement and to ensure that your account has not been compromised, access to your account was limited. Your account access will remain limited until this issue has been resolved. To secure your account and quickly restore full access, we may require some additional information from you.

To securely confirm your SpaseX information please go directly to https://signin.spasex.com/ws/SpaseX ISAPI.dll?SignIn [allyourmon...ongtous.cn] log in to your SpaceX account and perform the steps necessary to restore your account access as soon as possible or click here. [allyourmon...ongtous.cn]

Thank you for using SpaseX.

Copyright © 1995-2006 SpaseX Inc. All Rights Reserved. Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners. Use of this Web site constitutes acceptance of the SpaseX User Agreement [spacex.com] andPrivacy Policy [spacex.com] . We apologise for sneaking "sex" into our name, but no children or small animals were available at the time of registration.

Peter Thiel is the one who matters. (1)

Cybert14 (952427) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790697)

The former CEO of paypal just dropped a $100k matching challenge to the singularity challenge. Transcend humanity first, then the stars are nothing in comparison. Why terraform for oxygen when you can run on antimatter?

Re:Peter Thiel is the one who matters. (1)

Firehed (942385) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790835)

Why? You can't survive off of antimatter. O2 is rather helpful in that sense.

Re:Peter Thiel is the one who matters. (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790886)

Why? You can't survive off of antimatter. O2 is rather helpful in that sense.

The typical Singularitarian answer would probably involve you uploading your consciousness via a Moravec transfer [everything2.com] into a robot, which would then be able to survive off the antimatter without any need for oxygen. Or something.

Re:Peter Thiel is the one who matters. (3, Insightful)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790841)

The former CEO of paypal just dropped a $100k matching challenge to the singularity challenge. Transcend humanity first, then the stars are nothing in comparison. Why terraform for oxygen when you can run on antimatter?

Don't get me wrong -- I kind of like the Singularity Institute. However, could you point me towards some of the technological advancements they've been responsible for recently, or some of their research publications? As far as I can tell, there's zero.

Yeah... (1)

leonbrooks (8043) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791484)

...antimatter gives me the runs something terrible.

While I appreciate their audacity, I don't think they have a serious appreciation of just how complex, heavily multiplexed and interdependent our brains and supporting systems are.

Price? (1)

raptor_87 (881471) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790706)

Last I checked (astronautix.com, spacex.com), you will still get more kg in orbit per dollar spent with RKK Energia than SpaceX.

Re:Price? (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790782)

Huh? Lets start from the beginning.

Small payload rockets are much more expensive per kilogram than large rockets - $15-30k/kg typically. Falcon 1 is $9k. Very, very cheap for this market.

For midsized and large rockets, costs typically range from $7k-15k/kg. Energia was $8.6k/kg. Falcon V is predicted to be $2.9k/kg. Falcon 9 is predicted to be $2.9k/kg. Falcon 9-S5 is predicted to be $3k/kg. Falcon 9-S9 is predicted to be $3.1k/kg. Again, very, very cheap. And the size of a Falcon 9-S9, if they make it that far, is monstrous. A regular Falcon 9 would compete with an Ariane 5, but a 9-S9 would be a shuttle competitor. Real heavy lift.

If Musk can really pull this off, he deserves a medal. And a fat roster of contracts ;)

Re:Price? (1)

raptor_87 (881471) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790873)

Soyuz and Proton are $2.38k/kg. I'm not willing to cheer for SpaceX until after they have a sucessful launch.

Re:Price? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790978)

No, not really [futron.com] . The paper also clarifies some of the problems in price per kg calculations, including the problem of "generic costs" given out about vehicles, not specifics, and how those change over time to the actual costs.

Re:Price? (1)

raptor_87 (881471) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790992)

Interesting PDF. I'll get back to you later on it.

Re:Price? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790973)

There's a lot more going on than just the size of the rocket. Launch frequency also matters and that's one of the key advantages of the Russian program is that it launches relatively frequently. A small rocket might for the same number of launches be more costly (per kg) than a large rocket. However, small rockets frequently launched might achieve better costs per kg than large rockets launched at a much lower frequency.

Re:Price? (1)

jafac (1449) | more than 8 years ago | (#14795834)

So far, their track record isn't too impressive. I think with the whole Kwajalin fiasco, he's starting to learn some of the hard lessons that the big boys learned back in the 1940's and 1950's, and why it really is so expensive to do this stuff.

His answer? Sue the big boys. Because his personal libertarian ideology won't allow him to wrap his brain around the fact that you can't safely and reliably put satellites into orbit with just a bunch of guys in their garage and a dream.

The French have learned, the Japanese, Chinese, Brazillians, every other spacefaring nation has learned - the hard way, that the pioneers learned these lessons, the hard way - and these are the facts of life. It's not the fat, inefficient, piggy industry everyone seems to believe it is.

I have no doubt that he will eventually succeed with Falcon 1. But I think when SpaceX starts to scale up to Falcon 5 and Falcon 9, they're going to learn that in practice, there's a difference between theory in practice.

Re:Price? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14796569)

Quite true (wow, astute rocketry commentary on Slashdot? No way! :) ). Modern rocketry is not some hugely profitable industry just waiting for some brilliant person to sieze it. It's a nasty, tough, long hard slog to make a buck and reduce launch costs.

The big redeeming factor for Musk is that his launch cost figures are so far out of the ballpark this late in the game that even if they increase by 50%, they're still reasonable. Heck, even if they double, it's still not a *bad* deal.

Re:Price? (1)

jafac (1449) | more than 8 years ago | (#14800577)

Don't get me wrong, I think he's done amazing things with the development of his engines (assuming they actually perform in real-life like they do on paper). The increases in power and efficiency - if real, will be a great advancement. The scalability just hasn't been proven yet.

Re:Price? (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14797364)

I think with the whole Kwajalin fiasco, he's starting to learn some of the hard lessons that the big boys learned back in the 1940's and 1950's, and why it really is so expensive to do this stuff.

Could you elaborate on what you mean by "Kwajalein fiasco"? If you're referring to the hitches he's had in getting to his first launch, could you elaborate on what makes them different from the hitches regularly experienced by other launch companies?

Re:Price? (1)

jafac (1449) | more than 8 years ago | (#14800646)

Yes, the failure to plan for adequate capacity and delivery schedule for LOX, coupled with a couple of unfortunate equipment failures; these kinds of problems happen when you've got an accountant making engineering decisions - trying to cut costs, and finding out that when you do that, and unexpected things happen (and with such complex systems, unexpected things DO happen), and you get things like collapsed fuel tanks, and then you have to take everything apart, and keep your crew on that island for many more months, and pay them, and continue paying the range rent, etc, wait for the next opportunity in the range's schedule to make your launch. . .

And this is no different than hitches experienced regularly by other companies. Except for the fact that on a vehicle of this size and capability, the other companies were learning these hard lessons 40 years ago, and now they're learning the equivalent lessons for vehicles like the Delta IV. And they've folded the costs of these accidents and setbacks into their overall launch costs. SpaceX has not. And that's probably a big part of the reason why SpaceX's solutions look cheaper on paper. I'm saying that Falcon 9 is a pipe dream. SpaceX won't be done shaking out the bugs in Falcon 1 for something like 10 years, before they can even begin playing around with scaling it up to Falcon 9 (vapormissile).

Again, like I said in my other post, I think it's great that Musk has invested in engine design. None of the "big boys" seem to be doing that anymore. It seems to have paid off, if their efficiency and power claims are true - and if the reusability claims actually work out (if the booster survives recovery). In the end, SpaceX may deliver a less costly launch solution, but I doubt it will be anywhere near their starry-eyed predictions.

The "X" on the end of the name really bodes ill for my feeling that this is a bastard child of some 1990's dotcom pump-and-dump scammer. I really hope not, because for one, it would be very disheartenting to see our space industry scammed by the same kind of people that brought us AOL, WorldCom, Enron, (and the other denizens of fuckedcompany.com of decades past) etc. - but also, because as a civilization, humanity really desperately needs a much cheaper solution to get stuff into space.

Barrier to Space is Launch cost per Kg (1)

Dukeofshadows (607689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790808)

Personally I think the company that will make the most headway and profit in space is the one which devises a way to get us there for much less per kg. Even the lightest space station weighs in the tons and at $20k/kg it's quite difficult to make a profit. There was a German company a while back that had some great ideas (http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/otrag.htm [astronautix.com] ) but we need to make serious inroads here before space will *really* become profitable.

Or better yet.... (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790851)

the comapny which figures out how to build in space. why transport a space station in pieces using boosters which you're going to toss back in to the gravity well. Instead, weld the ends shut on the boosters, throw in some control and life support equipment, and you've got a low cost space station in orbit.

Now just to find... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14790881)

...someone to man that station.

Re:Or better yet.... (3, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790882)

Not *nearly* that easy.

First off, boosters typically get jettisoned at unstable altitudes. If you wanted to take the space shuttle main tanks up to LEO, for example, you'd have to fly without payload. You'd need to bring up everything that goes in and on the tank in subsequent flughts.

Secondly, space stations are far more than an airtight container. They're hundreds of thousands to millions of parts, each needing to be attached. Often this involves breaches of your structure, which you would need to make re-airtight at many points.

The shapes are often odd. They often have complicating factors, such as residual chemicals or clouds of insulation or outgassing around them. They may not weld well. And in-space assembly itself is already incredibly difficult (not to mention that an astronaut in orbit is the highest labour cost you'll ever find).

It's much easier just to build it on the ground and launch it. Even Skylab, which was just a modified upper stage, was modified on the ground (even then it had problems). It just makes more economic and structural sense to do your work here on Earth, even if it means more (or bigger) launches. And yes, this has been considered before - what would later become ISS had the possibility of being made of shuttle ETs considered several times.

You could strap on two more boosters... (2, Insightful)

leonbrooks (8043) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791490)

...in order to be able to take some payload, but your basic point remains sound. Shuttles are effing expensive beasts to run. Far better to use something much simpler, more robust and reliable which more importantly was designed to do exact what you want to achieve.

Re:Barrier to Space is Launch cost per Kg (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790899)

Personally I think the company that will make the most headway and profit in space is the one which devises a way to get us there for much less per kg.

That's pretty much SpaceX's business plan... reducing launch prices by at least an order of magnitude

launch prices have already dropped by 10x (1)

raptor_87 (881471) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790912)

Go Russian and you're looking at $2.38k/kg for a Soyuz or Proton. Perhaps even less for a Volna. That launch rates are way down (2004 was the lowest year since 1961) is rather troubling, though.

I'm confused.... (1)

jjh37997 (456473) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790712)

Is PayPal still evil? Was the ripping off of small-time eBayers part of the great good of getting Mankind into space?

Not evil (1)

Cybert14 (952427) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790750)

Thanks to Peter Thiel (former CEO) for supporting the singularity challenge. Check singinst.org.

Re:I'm confused.... (1)

Eightyford (893696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790775)

Is PayPal still evil?

Yes. Yes it is.

Seconded... (1)

leonbrooks (8043) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791498)

...and they're starting to run out of buyers, partly as a result of that and other persistent, nagging, low-level greediness and control-freakism.

I am sick of hearing about these 'Internet boys'.. (2, Insightful)

zymano (581466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790771)

What is it with them ? Like the Amazon owner who wants to get into rockets, now this guy and don't forget Richard British guy who tries to break every meaningless record.

News. We have rockets already.

Try and beat Pegasus for cost/lb.

Re:I am sick of hearing about these 'Internet boys (1)

Eightyford (893696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790792)

Don't forget John Carmack, the creator of Doom. He's now applying his creativity and physics knowledge to his Armadillo Aerospace project.

Re:I am sick of hearing about these 'Internet boys (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790839)

In a couple years, he may even have finally settled on a propellant choice! Who knows, it may even have an ISP greater than 200! ;)

Don't get me wrong. I like Carmack. I even idolized him a bit when I was younger. But Armadillo Aerospace is just amusing. It's hard to take seriously even as a "space" tourism concept, let alone a concept that could come close to bordering on nearing the possibility of theoretically, even with a few deus ex machinas thrown in for good measure, reaching orbit.

Re:I am sick of hearing about these 'Internet boys (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790998)

Yeah, it's a rocket club posing as a company for liability and tax purposes :) But they're having fun and that's all that matters.

Re:I am sick of hearing about these 'Internet boys (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790816)

Falcon 1 trashes Pegasus in price per pound. Check it out on astronautix.

Assuming Musk's numbers are legit, he's trashed the light payload launch market's numbers already, and is prepping to trash the medium and heavy payload market's numbers in the same way. If this is the case, we're talking about the first major rocketry cost reductions since the 1960s.

Of course, that's a very big "If". Lets hope he actually pulls it off; this is a project that space enthusiasts really should really be cheering, not a little unscalable rocketplane that takes millionaires on "zero g for a few minutes" joyrides that don't approach any of the real challenges involved in reaching orbit.

Re:I am sick of hearing about these 'Internet boys (1)

loggia (309962) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791051)

Although your post is flamebait, I somewhat agree. I am sick of hearing about guys like Musk and Levchin who became rich by creating a company that treated customers HORRIBLY and had questionable financial and legal activities, some of which PayPal was fined millions for and some which are still being examined.

But none of that seems to matter, now that they're rich and making big toys? I disagree.

Helping make the fortune smaller (1)

gtzpower (928065) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790794)

"I said I wanted to take a large fortune and make it a small one, so I started a rocket business"

Mr. Musk, I believe that innovations are made by man trying to find an easier way to do something (A.K.A. the desire to be lazy). The rocket business sounds like a lot of work, so why don't you and I innovate, and we'll buy me a new house to help you achieve your goal of having a smaller fortune. I don't mind, really. I will do anything to help.

Don't trust the guy... (2, Funny)

JonTurner (178845) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791002)

...if he can't even manage to tell a joke. Here's how it goes:

Q: How do you make a small fortune?
A: Start with a large fortune, and join the rocket business.

Well sure. (3, Funny)

gold23 (44621) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790810)

He'd get in trouble if he tried to send his rockets someplace on Earth.

Columbia explosion... (3, Insightful)

Eightyford (893696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790831)

Charles Hill, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering, said the university had a $1 million spacecraft that was mothballed after the Columbia explosion.

Whatever happened to the good ol' days where astronauts had balls and the administrators let them prove it? Spaceflight is a little dangerous, sure; but I'd volunteer if I was given a 50/50 chance of returning alive. I'm sure many other people would too.

Re:Columbia explosion... (2, Funny)

Soko (17987) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790862)

Spaceflight is a little dangerous, sure; but I'd volunteer if I was given a 50/50 chance of returning alive. I'm sure many other people would too.

Okie. I volunteer Eightyford for SpaceX, too.

Soko

Re:Columbia explosion... (1)

adyus (678739) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791400)


I think the problem is not having a hand in the launch at all. I believe many astronauts would, as you say, volunteer if only there was a way to personally check every detail of flight. The problem today is that getting on a rocket today is almost like playing Russian roulette with an automatic; all an astronaut does is sit back and enjoy the ride...

Make going into space more like driving, and most NASCAR racers would probably sign up right away.

Re:Columbia explosion... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14792960)

"The problem today is that getting on a rocket today is almost like playing Russian roulette with an automatic; all an astronaut does is sit back and enjoy the ride..."

Columbus: So, there you have it. We're going to sail west and try to find India.

Random Deckhand: Well, alright, count me in. As long as I can check every single square inch of your ship, gov'nuh.

Columbus: Next!

The problem is that the media feeds to the pathetic cowardice of the American people. Nothing more, nothing less. OH NOES SOME ASTRONAUTS DIED! Guess what? A hell of a lot more are going to be dead before we're through, if humanity has any hope of reaching the stars.

Here's how it plays out, though:

Media: OMG EXPLOSION!

Armchair Moron: OMG BUSH!

Bush: Fuck this, cut funding for NASA, like I don't get enough shit already about everything else I do.

So, I'd suggest the American people grow some god damned balls and realize that exploration is both very dangerous and very necessary. Unless, of course, you'd like to welcome in our Chinese Moon Base Overlords.

Re:Columbia explosion... (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791557)

Spaceflight is a little dangerous, sure; but I'd volunteer if I was given a 50/50 chance of returning alive.

But the real question is: If you did return unharmed, would you volunteer for a second flight?

Re:Columbia explosion... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14792060)

In this hypothetical, he'd have a 50/50 chance of making it through the second flight, as well ...

Re:Columbia explosion... (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 8 years ago | (#14799912)

In this hypothetical, he'd have a 50/50 chance of making it through the second flight, as well

Yes, he'd have a 50% chance of making it through each individual flight, however, the aggregate statistics add-up. The second flight would really be a 1/4 chance of success.

Certainly, some people do better than the odds, and some people do worse, but you're really testing your luck on such a long-shot.

Re:Columbia explosion... (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 8 years ago | (#14792491)

America could have beat the Russians to put a man in orbit but launched up a chimp instead. Administrators shut down requests from astronauts to take the chimp's place just so we could beat the Russians to the moon. So America had to content itself with the first to put a primate into orbit.

interesting, reference? (1)

fantomas (94850) | more than 8 years ago | (#14794404)

interesting - didn't know this. Have you got a reference / URL to the story?

Re:Columbia explosion... (1)

metlin (258108) | more than 8 years ago | (#14795358)

I agree.

And it's not just astronauts. All the explorers who discovered new lands and the new world were all folks who were willing to take the risks.

You're not going to get ahead if you are not willing to take chances, the safest path is often the most stagnant path.

These days, people have lost the balls to do risky things. Are we so far gone that we're not willing to take an odd risk or two?

Re:Columbia explosion... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14798874)

So you get to be national hero by dying instantly in a massive explosion, immortalized in history forever, while all the people who worked so hard to send you up there get lynched by the politicians and Fox News?

Gee, how noble of you.

No longer affililated with PayPal (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790832)

Since there's already been a few of the inevitable complaints/jokes about PayPal, let me be the first to remind people that Elon Musk sold PayPal to eBay several years ago, and no longer has any sort of affiliation with the company.

Re:No longer affililated with PayPal (1)

loggia (309962) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791007)

Which means... he was there when PayPal was even worse.

I wouldn't get on a rocket with Musk or Max Levchin. I consider them both to be egregiously unethical.

Cosmic Radiation? (1)

counterfriction (934292) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790842)

Perhaps he should invest in some cosmic shielding research. I was just reading an article eariler today in the current issue of Scientific American that you could end up reaching Mars with severe DNA and brain damage [sciam.com] . The obstacles do not lie in the innovation of rockets, but in protecting the traveler.

Re:Cosmic Radiation? (3, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790921)

Almost everything comes down to launch costs. Is shielding a problem? Cut your launch costs in half, and you can double your craft's mass. Double the craft's mass, and you'll get several times thicker radiation shielding.

Launch cost reduction should be our number one space research project. Sending people to the moon and mars when launch costs to LEO alone are 7-15k$/kg is just silly. It's unsustainable. It's asking to get yourself a new albatross around your neck as ISS has started to become.

With the money put into these projects, we should fund a huge amount of launch cost reduction research. Fund development at big companies. At small companies like SpaceX. Fund materials and component research. Fund scramjets. Fund nuclear thermal. Fund ballistic launch. Fund it all. Find what works, toss the rest. It will take money. A lot of it. But once we have reduced launch costs, we get to keep them that way :)

Re:Cosmic Radiation? (1)

counterfriction (934292) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791076)

In some regards this is true; there are certain material shields that can deflect cosmic radiation. Water and polyethylene are two examples. For water to be effective, it would have to be 5 meters deep (according to the SciAm article). This would make the payload of any prospective water-encapsulated spacecraft VERY massive.

Keep in mind that this "shield" is not deflecting space rocks, we're talking about elementary particles traveling at immense speeds, which decompose into gamma radiation upon collision with other particles, in addition to damaging the impacted particle. This can cause loss of molecular integrety in your DNA (i.e. splitting it). You don't have to know much to realize this isn't a good thing.

However, there are other ways of deflecting the cosmic radiation. One such proposed method employs electromagnets. The problem is that the magnet would have to be powerful on the order of 20 Teslas. To give a sense of scale, this is about 400000x the earth's magnetic field. Not only would such an electromagnet consume a LOT of power, its biological effects on astronauts within its field are uncertain.

Another way is to positively charge the spacecraft, but this is also impractical. The power consumption rates are outrageous, plus it would attract a massive flux of surrounding negatively charged particles, which can do as much, if not more, damage as the original particles that you're deflecting.

The point is, until there is a feasible means of shielding these prospective interplanetary adventurers (I woudn't venture to assert that launching a 500 ton water shield is practical), it doesn't matter how advanced our rockets are, because we're not going to get very far without significant biological damage.

Re:Cosmic Radiation? (1)

Upsilon Andromedea (835075) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791132)

So what happens to astronauts and cosmonauts during prolonged stays at the space station.

Re:Cosmic Radiation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14791529)

Not much. At such a low orbit, they're shielded from the worst of the radiation by the Earth's magnetic field.

Re:Cosmic Radiation? (1)

ab8ten (551673) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791879)

THey are close enough to the earth that its magnetic field protects them from cosmic radiation, much like it does for us.

Re:Cosmic Radiation? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14793582)

I'm familiar with all of this. Shielding is a very difficult issue to model, and saying that "X thickness of shielding" is needed isn't a very accurate case, because it all comes down to geometry and what you deem as acceptable levels.

Shielding in space encompasses two contradictory principles: you want heavy nuclei to stop some particles, but against other particles, collisions with those nuclei will unleash a storm of other particles (bremsstrahlung), so you want to shield with as light of nuclei as possible (hydrogen). Bremsstrahlung effects are very difficult to model and depend strongly on geometry.

Even with launch cost reductions, shielding the entire craft heavily isn't an option. Most proposals call for a "shelter" for astronauts to squeeze into during solar storms that is shielded more heavily than the rest of the craft.

In addition to solar radiation (which can at least theoretically be shielded against with "active shielding" (magnetic fields or a charged craft), GCR ("galactic cosmic radiation") cannot realistically be deflected as such, and must be passively shielded. So, no matter what, you're going to require a *lot* of passive shielding.

Re:Cosmic Radiation? (1)

Stoutlimb (143245) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791116)

It's not that bad if you stay in orbit. Or underground on the moon. One step at a time...

Old world/ New world; here we go again (2, Insightful)

Grumpy Wombat (899702) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790849)

I can't help thinking about all the explorers who set out from a tired conservative European world to find the 'new world'; multi-year trips, many lost ships, false starts, disasters and discoveries. In some ways we now live in a very conservative risk averse world that likes to try and keep the status quo rather than push the boundaries and explore new hosizons.

How long will it be and how many 'lost ships' will we see before we get another Christopher Columus, Marco Polo or James Cook?

Re:Old world/ New world; here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14795212)

I think the biggest difference here is that there was real value in the 'new world.' Voyages of discovery in those days were truly to find out what was there, and if it was viably useful. We know what's on the moon, Mars, and other planets. We've sent robots. And it is of no real use to us at the moment.

As soon as someone finds an economically/politically profitable reason to start sending people across the solar system, it will happen. Right now you just get bragging rights.

6ta3o (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14790864)

politics 0penly. [goat.cx]

Quotes from Elon Musk (4, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790874)

I'm a big fan of Elon Musk [wikipedia.org] , who started SpaceX [slashdot.org] with the money he got from selling PayPal to eBay. He's a pretty good example of someone who grew up with dreams about space who's trying to make those dreams a reality. I think his efforts with towards dramatically decreasing the cost of space launch are quite important, and crucial for his (and my) long-term goal of making humanity a multi-planet species.

A number of people have been complaining about Musk and his three launch scrubs in the past few months, where the countdown was terminated for various reasons before the rocket left the ground. It should be noted though that these sorts of delays are pretty much the norm for the launch business. For example, there were eleven separate attempts to launch the ARGOS satellite on a Boeing Delta II rocket.

This set of notes by Michael Belfiore from their pre-launch press conference [collegiatetimes.com] for their launch attempt late last year is a pretty interesting read and gives great insight into what Musk wants to do with SpaceX. Some excerpts:

SpaceX's second Gen rocket engine will be the biggest rocket engine in the world, though not the biggest in history. The F1 engine that sent people to the moon is no longer in production, so Musk doesn't count that. ...

Q: What customers will you put on Falcon 9?
A: We haven't thought a lot about it because it's speculative, but big customers would be NASA, Bigelow Aerospace, which is launching its first subscale space station module next year, and potentially people who just want to go to orbit and just spend some time on orbit. Also we could do a loop around the moon, which actually wouldn't require a huge rocket. [Space Adventures recently cut a deal with the Russian Space Agency to do just that, so that may be what inspired Musk to say that.] ...

Q: When will you go to space?
A: I'm not doing this to go into space myself, per se. I want to help build a space faring civilization. It would have been very easy for me to pay to go to the International Space Station myself. I want to help other people get to space. ...

Musk: The expansion of life on earth to other places is arguably the most important thing to happen to life on earth, if it happens. Life has the duty to expand. And we're the representatives of life with the ability to do so. ...

Q: When will you fly cargo missions to the space station?
A: I hope in the next 3 to 4 years. ...

Another question from me: Are you developing a manned vehicle right now, or have you thought that far ahead yet?
A: I can't comment on that right now. ...

Q: What's next in the entreprenurial space field?
A: Lots of people doing things--Paul Allen [who funded SpaceShipOne], Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin, John Carmack with Armadillo Aerospace...Musk thinks we're heading toward a Netscape moment, when someone turns a profit, and hopefully it'll be SpaceX, and then investment capital will start to flow in.

C'mon, Elon! (3, Interesting)

Thagg (9904) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791157)

I'm a big fan of Musk, too, and of private space enterprise in general.

My biggest problem with Musk is the lack of information at his website. If you want to generate a political movement (and that's what he's trying to do -- vying for Air Force contracts is the very definition of politics) you need to have much better publicity.

And his website sucks. While it's kind of pretty, there's almost no content. The news [spacex.com] , in particular, is weak --three sentences and movie that won't play on Linux about the most recent static firing.

He has no excuse. He built PayPal! He knows the 'net! He has seen the kind of virtuous circle that can be built up through good communication. I cannot for the life of me understand why SpaceX fails so spectacularly in the communication mission.

And don't say that they are trying to keep their proprietary details secret -- if he's really interested in promoting inexpensive space travel, he'd *want* those secrets out there!

I contrast this with Carmack's spectacular Armadillo Aerospace [armadilloaerospace.com] site. All of his successes, failures, dead ends, oopses -- all presented in more detail than any sane person could ever want. With Carmack, you really feel like you can understand the process as much as you can without picking up a welding torch.

Anyway, I really can't complain. I'm sitting around making movies instead of spaceships -- please treat this rant as constructive criticism.

Thad Beier

Re:C'mon, Elon! (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791184)

I'd have to disagree. As far as space companies go, I'd say that SpaceX is almost absurdly informative. Can you point me to the pages for Boeing and Lockheed-Martin where they describe and analyze in detail why their launches were delayed or failed?

And his website sucks. While it's kind of pretty, there's almost no content. The news, in particular, is weak --three sentences and movie that won't play on Linux about the most recent static firing.

You're probably looking for the updates page [spacex.com] . There's a good bit of commentary and videos there, especially if you go into the archives. For (very) unofficial info there's Kwajalein Atoll and Rockets [blogspot.com] , maintained by Elon's brother Kimbal. Of course, despite his photographs he insists that he's in a basement somewhere in Colorado, and not actually at the Atoll. ;)

I contrast this with Carmack's spectacular Armadillo Aerospace site. All of his successes, failures, dead ends, oopses -- all presented in more detail than any sane person could ever want. With Carmack, you really feel like you can understand the process as much as you can without picking up a welding torch.

Sure, that's Carmack, but he's very much the exception rather than the rule. In fact, John Carmack is the only spaceflight person I can think of who comments more than Elon Musk.

Carmack's site is more a hobby than a business... (1)

Goonie (8651) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791442)

I've paid attention to Carmack's Armadillo site for years, and it's very entertaining stuff. But to characterise Armadillo Aerospace as a business seems to be a bit of a mischaracterisation; it seems more like a hobby to keep Carmack and his buddies amused on their days off rather than a serious business at this stage. If it was, he'd make progress a lot faster (because he wouldn't have to wait to the weekend to test, for instance). They have built some very cool stuff, and it's great that they're prepared to share it with the rest of us. But they don't seem to be in it to make money any time soon.

Re:C'mon, Elon! (1)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 8 years ago | (#14796241)

Well, for a business with 135 employees that doesn't appear to have a dedicated webmaster (that site screams "prepackaged"), it ain't bad. They aren't bothering much with publicity right now, they're trying to get a rocket in the air without spending too much money. They don't even hire interns presently, so it's little surprise they don't put much effort into beefing up their website. I'm still trying to decide if I should send them a resume as an entry-level propulsion engineer, a web administrator, or an "Internet and Rocketry Specialist." Sort of a jack-of-all-trades type guy...

Either way, though, I'd have to move to California, so it probably wouldn't be worth it.

becoming rich(ard) (1)

ecoppelmans (869267) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790927)

'I said I wanted to take a large fortune and make it a small one, so I started a rocket business,' Musk said.

Wasn't it co-space-pioneer Richard Branson (Virgin Atlantic Airways) who said: "If you want to become a millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline..."

Not very original a quote from Musk, then.

Re:becoming rich(ard) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14791419)

Actually, 'I said I wanted to take a large fortune and make it a small one, so I started a (something) business,' is a famous business quote from well before Branson and rockets. Damned if I can remember who though.

Re:becoming rich(ard) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14797533)

The one I saw was something like "To make a small fortune in the commodity market, start with a large fortune."

Space Jam very soon?! (1)

Jomtmon (956897) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790936)

Branson is targeting 2008..With all these guys rushing out to space, may be we can see a 'traffic jam' in space soon. Well, I guess everyone is thinking of the unclaimed 'real estate' out there.

Re:Space Jam very soon?! (1)

Grumpy Wombat (899702) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791026)

The traffic jams won't get so bad, they will just build new hyperspace bypasses every time it gets too conjested. And don't forget the cheap and nasty fast food at the top of all good exit ramps...

Elon Musk is NOT PayPal's founder (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14790937)

Elon Musk is an idiot. Read below to find out why.

PayPal was founded by Max Levchin and Peter Thiel. Elon Musk's competitor, X.com, merged with PayPal in 2000. Elon Musk became PayPal's CEO and Peter Thiel stepped down. Elon then ordered the PayPal system to be rewritten for Windows (it previously ran on Linux). This rewrite was strongly disliked by engineering, but Elon Musk persisted. The Windows rewrite was completed after six months of hard work, but was deemed too unstable to use. Elon Musk was fired by the board of directors of PayPal in late 2000 through a vote of no confidence. He would have destroyed PayPal.

Peter Thiel stepped up to become CEO, again, and made PayPal into a gigantic success.

Re:Elon Musk is NOT PayPal's founder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14791014)

Well let's just hope his rockets don't have windows.

PayPal could have been worse? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14791028)

He would have destroyed PayPal.

I'm not sure he could have destroyed a company that was and continues to be a nightmare for its customers.

Clearly you have some inside knowledge, so why don't you tell us about PayPal's unconscionable (Judge Fogel's word, not mine) operations in regards to its customers...

Re:Elon Musk is NOT PayPal's founder (1)

dschmelzer (198261) | more than 8 years ago | (#14794072)

The parent is being rather glib with the facts to slag Musk. According to Wikipedia, in early 2000, X.com bought Confinity, which included the PayPal service. In early 2001, X.com changed its name to PayPal. Musk was a co-founder of X.com and therefore PayPal.

Boeing & Lockheed suit dismissed (3, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790941)

SpaceX is not new, but in a speech at Virginia Tech, Musk talked about the company's troubles and its lawsuit against Boeing and Lockheed as he tries to get a slice of the valuable Air Force contracts."

Unfortunately, it looks like the suit against the merger of Boeing & Lockheed's launch operations (effectively creating a launch monopoly) has been dismissed [nasaspaceflight.com] . Some comments from RLV News [hobbyspace.com] (a fantastic space news resource, btw):

A judge has dismissed the lawsuit by SpaceX against the Boeing / Lockheed plan to form the United Launch Alliance to provide most all of the large payload launches for the Air Force for the next several years: SpaceX vs. Boeing and Lockheed Lawsuit Dismissed - NasaSpaceFlight.com - Feb.17.06 [nasaspaceflight.com] .

From the description of the decision, it sounds like a Catch-22 situation. The judge is saying that you can't sue to stop the formation of a monopoly until you have built your system and proved that it is capable of competing against the monopoly. However, in a monopoly situation, especially in such a capital intensive area as rockets, it can be extremely difficult to raise the money to build your system if potential investors see that you will be kept out of a primary market. Talk about a barrier to entry!

In this case, Elon Musk has said he will build the Falcon 9 regardless, but it's a shame he has to enter a playing field tilted against him from the start.


An additional comment from the Space Law Probe [blogspot.com] : The court did not address the merits of SpaceX claims. (Nor, by the way, did the judge make note of whether a successful Falcon launch might have made a difference in the analysis or ruling, as some will no doubt wonder.)

Re:Boeing & Lockheed suit dismissed (1)

coinreturn (617535) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791948)

I have to say that I side with the judge on this one. Claiming you can send payloads into space for 25% the cost and actually doing it are two completely different things. He is welcome to bid on the Air Force contracts. One of the things the Air Force weighs into proposal evaluation is the contractors' history and chances of successful execution. SpaceX basically has zero there. Also, they have no experience in delivering the kind of reliability the Air Force demands. This reliability is one huge factor in the cost of the system.

If you lived at the top of a steep hill, would you hire a hobo living under a bridge to fix the brakes on your car for 25% of the cost of a mechanic?

Launch costs smaunch costs... (2, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14790991)

Why would anyone become "multi-planetary" when there's no reason to do so? Other planets are harsh, inhospitable places. What's the incentive to spend the billions upon billions of dollars it'd take to develop the technology for a colony? "Coolness?" Not to mention the unknown health costs of living in a lower gravity for years.

It's all about economics, and if the economics aren't their the lowest launch costs imaginable aren't going to matter. The closest economic benefit we've got is mining Helium-3 from the moon, and even that's a pipe dream. I'm sure there will be a manned mission to Mars someday, but that's not anything like being "multi-planetary"

Re:Launch costs smaunch costs... (1)

Stoutlimb (143245) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791136)

"Why would anyone become "multi-planetary" when there's no reason to do so?"

People are trying, so there must be a reason.

Think of it as a backup system for every living thing. If something goes horribly wrong on earth, life as we know it will still exist elswhere. Seeing as we are the only ones who are able to do this, I think we have a moral obligation to the rest of the life forms on this planet to do so. I, for one, think we have that obligation.

So, what is the cost of life insurance for the entire planet?

Bork!

Re:Launch costs smaunch costs... (1)

gromeo (956915) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791331)

You are a very, very smart guy ;) you know that. When you have the billions you talk about, when you create something like PayPal, you will have the ABILITY to judge. And to have the different point of view. People who make billions, can make billions, and they know when they can lose money and when they can win. If you sit behind your stinky computer, or cubicle, or whatever, you will die with it. Judging others... is not a good thing. Just like I did to you. Take it as example. I know I'm not right judging you. Just showing what it is actually. So that you'll be familliar with the feeling.

Yes, to space for "coolness" -- at least, first... (1)

figgypower (809463) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791438)

So are you going to go to space for sheer "coolness"? Sure, we might. Why do you think fashion and beauty are so important in human societies? Besides, I'm sure other planets and the far reaches of space offers things that we can't even imagine right now. Additionally, our adventures into space have given birth to several things we use daily: digital-signal processing, cordless power-tools, cool suits, video stabilization, etc. Imagine all the cool stuff we'll get from the side effect of going to Mars; cool stuff that'll benefit humanity.

A Visionary You Aint (1)

FreeUser (11483) | more than 8 years ago | (#14795338)

Why would anyone become "multi-continental" when there's no reason to do so? Other continents are harsh, inhospitable places. What's the incentive to spend the huge quantity of gold it'd take to develop the technology for a colony? "Coolness?" Not to mention the unknown health costs of living in on the other side of the Atlantic for years.

It's all about economics, and if the economics aren't their the lowest launch costs imaginable aren't going to matter. The closest economic benefit we've got is a short cut to Asia, and even that's a pipe dream. I'm sure there will be a manned mission to Asia via the Atlantic someday, but that's not anything like being "multi-continental"


Enter Columbus, and the multiplying of Europe's economy (and that of the rest of the world) to a level never seen before, that has continued to grow for 5 centuries.

Still think you're so wise to turn your back on any vision bigger than your pocketbook?

Re:A Visionary You Aint (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14796070)

You're comparing two completely different things. Other continents were perfectly ready for more human inhabitants (that is if you ignore the natives). Other planets are lifeless inhospitable wastelands. That's quite a big difference. Terraforming you say? Maybe some day, but for the foreseeable future, and certainly everyone that's alive today it's a pipedream. Even Antarctica is a more inhabitable place than Mars. It's useless to dream about something that might take place in another 500 years.

We should be concentrating on things that can actually be done, and have a reason to do so. Space elevators, sub-orbital transportation, and maybe even mars explorations are all attainable goals that have significant benefits. Establishing colonies on Mars and being "multi-planetary" is not.

Strata (1)

hman (141328) | more than 8 years ago | (#14799863)

You seem to think there isn't any reason to go multi-planetary.
Try taking a look at Terry Pratchett's [lspace.org] Strata. [amazon.com]

There one of the basic ideas was:
1. There are/have been lots of civilisations out there.
2. Sooner or later every civilisation hits a Big Problem(tm), possibly a terminally problem.
3. If we try to differentiate maybe some part will survive.


    Later lifeforms had been smaller, brighter. Some, like the Wheelers, had been evolutionary dead ends. Some, notably the Great Spindle Kings and the shameleons, had been successful in the only way that evolution measured success - they survived longer. But even star-striding races died. The universe was tombs upon graves upon mausoleums. The comet that brightened the pagan skies was the abraded corpse of a scientist, three eons ago.
    The Policy of the Company was simple. It was: make Man immortal.
    It would take a while, and had only just started. But if Man could be spread thinly on many different planets, so that he became many types of Man, perhaps he would survive. The Spindles had died because they were so alike. Now, upon dozens of worlds, men were being changed by different forces, maddened by different moons, bent by different gravities.
    Since the universe could not be said to have a natural ending, because the universe was not natural but only the sum of the lives that had shaped it, Men intended to live for ever. Why not ?


Sure, there's still a lot of work to do, possibly there are other problems which should be solved before, maybe this is not yet the right moment... maybe, maybe not.

Musk vs. Thiel (1)

Anissimov (785009) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791381)

Musk is funding sending rockets into space. Peter Thiel is funding self-improving Artificial Intelligence whose technological innovations will make rockets, as well as the rest of vanilla-human technology, obsolete. Which is more visionary?

Re:Musk vs. Thiel (1)

geoffspear (692508) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791992)

By "visionary" do you mean "loony", or is this some sort of trick question?

Me, I'm studying the writings of Uri Gellar to learn how to bend spacetime like a spoon to make Mars only 5 feet away so we can walk there. These rocketry guys are thinking way too small.

* Security Warning * Interested in your rocket (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14791558)

Hello,

I have been told that you are selling rockets into the outer spaces. Unfortunatly, I live in Krezblekistan, and I cannot pay in a conventional way. I will pay you triple asking your price via Western Union if you would have kind enough for sending it here. Reply soon!

Thank You,
phishingfranc07

Faster solution for this quote... (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 8 years ago | (#14791630)

I said I wanted to take a large fortune and make it a small one, so I started a rocket business,'

I know of a much much faster way to turn a large fortune into a small one. Get married and have kids!

What if... (1)

packetmill (955023) | more than 8 years ago | (#14792086)

..a hacker uses fake info to pay for a trip and only gets caught after take-off?

You have 2 basic options:

a)Send him down alone in an economy class module that doesn't have parachutes.

b)Call it quits and ruin the flight for everybody.

I think I'll just settle for a spot on the beach.

So when is the launch? (1)

dr. loser (238229) | more than 8 years ago | (#14792453)

Any word on when they're going to try again at launching the Falcon 1? At the company website, Musk writes on Feb. 10 that he'll post a long update "next week" regarding the static fire test and a new launch date. It's been two weeks now, and still no post....
 

And when the rocket disappears in mid flight (1)

bobamu (943639) | more than 8 years ago | (#14792871)

There never was a rocket, no you can't have "your" rocket back because there is no rocket.

Frozen SpacePal (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 8 years ago | (#14793752)

Musk's PayPal ripped me off for thousands of dollars. There are several class action lawsuits [google.com] pending against PayPal, several of which reflect the same scam they pulled on me, siphoning millions of dollars in interest on unfairly "frozen" accounts. His rockets will probably explode in space, out of reach of national liability laws.

So that's what happened to my paypal funds (1)

Gerk (14824) | more than 8 years ago | (#14795571)

When they got confiscated. Seriously. Someone once paid me for a coding gig through paypal, who seized the money as they deemed it "suspicious".

Keep it Simple (1)

VeryHotTopic (954703) | more than 8 years ago | (#14796601)

I completely agree with Musk. Keep it Simple is a great motto!
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