Let’s Talk About Elon Musk’s Submarine

When word first broke that Elon Musk was designing a kid-sized submarine to help rescue the children stuck in Thailand’s Tham Luang cave, it seemed like a logical thing for Hackaday to cover. An eccentric builder of rockets and rocket-launched electric sports cars, pushing his engineering teams and not inconsiderable financial resources into action to save children? All of that talk about Elon being a real life Tony Stark was about to turn from meme into reality; if the gambit paid off, the world might have it’s first true superhero.

With human lives in the balance, and success of the rescue attempt far from assured (regardless of Elon’s involvement), we didn’t feel like playing arm-chair engineer at the time. Everyone here at Hackaday is thankful that due to the heroics of the rescuers, including one who paid the ultimate price, all thirteen lives were saved.

Many said it couldn’t be done, others said even saving half of the children would have been a miracle. But Elon’s submarine, designed and built at a breakneck pace and brought to Thailand while some of the children were still awaiting rescue, laid unused. It wasn’t Elon’s advanced technology that made the rescue possible, it was the tenacity of the human spirit.

Now, with the rescue complete and the children well on their way to returning to their families, one is left wondering about Elon’s submarine. Could it have worked?

The Wild Boar

To start, let’s look at what we know about Elon’s creation. Named “Wild Boar” after the children’s soccer team, calling the craft a submarine is perhaps overly generous. Essentially, the Wild Boar is a sealed tube that divers would pull along through the cave system. It has no propulsion, indeed no active control systems of any kind. Ballast is provided by diver’s weight belts, which would be added and subtracted as necessary depending on the weight of its occupant.

The hull is a five-foot-long section of the liquid oxygen (LOX) transfer tube used in the Falcon 9 rocket. For those who may have slept through “Orbital Boosters 101”: the transfer tube is used to move the supercooled LOX from its tank at the top of the rocket’s first stage, down through the fuel tank located in the lower section of the stage, and into the manifold which distributes it to the nine Merlin engines.

As LOX chilled to -207 C moves through it at a rate of roughly 380 US gallons per second, the LOX transfer tube is naturally rather large and exceptionally strong. Of course, being a component intended for a rocket it’s also lightweight — a fact backed up by Elon’s mention that the entire Wild Boar weighed around just 90 pounds. This is important, as not all sections of the cave were flooded and the rescuers would need to carry or drag it occasionally.

Spin forming a Merlin nozzle

The front of the Wild Boar is capped with a nose cone to protect the attachment point for the air lines. This part was presumably created on short notice by employing the same spin forming technique SpaceX uses to manufacture the exhaust nozzles for their Merlin engines. Besides protecting the air lines, the pointed nose would help guide the Wild Boar through the tight cave passageways as it glanced off of obstructions.

The rear “hatch” of the Wild Boar is made of an acrylic disc, held on with eight thumb screws and sealed with an o-ring. Elon says this was made clear so divers would be able to see the occupant’s head, presumably to allow for some level of communication through hand signals.

As for what’s inside the Wild Boar, that’s a little harder to say. Throughout the course of its rapid development and construction, Elon mentioned the inside would have everything from neoprene insulation to a sound system so the occupant could listen to music during the journey. It’s unclear how much, if any, of these “luxury” features were finished by the time it arrived at the Tham Luang cave.

Practical Issues

That the Wild Boar could safely hold a human occupant while submerged is not up for debate. Not only is the design exceptionally straightforward, but it completed at least one manned test dive before being shipped to Thailand.

What’s less certain is if it could be safely navigated through the twists and turns of the cave, and equally importantly, could a child actually endure the trip. As reported by a number of news agencies, Narongsak Osatanakorn, supervisor of the rescue operation was quoted as dismissing the Wild Boar as “not practical for this mission”.

The main concern was that the Wild Boar was simply too large to reach the stranded children, as its diameter was just two inches smaller than the tightest area of the cave. It’s length and rigid construction would also make it difficult to get through some of the tighter turns, and if it got stuck and blocked the passage, the results could have been disastrous.

Even if the Wild Boar could make it to the children, many questioned whether a child that was already in a weakened mental and physical state could remain calm in what is essentially a metal coffin during the five hour trip through the cave. With no room to move inside the craft, some speculated the children would have needed to be sedated if they were to have any hope of making the journey.

The Best of Intentions

For his part, Elon maintains that he was in close contact with divers that had first hand experience with the Tham Luang cave during the design and construction of the Wild Boar, and that he believes it could have reached the children had the authorities deemed it necessary. He went as far as to claim on Twitter that he would personally return to the cave with the Wild Boar and demonstrate that it could reach the location where the children were stranded, but has since deleted the message.

It’s clear that the Wild Boar was unneeded, as evidenced by the simple fact that everyone was rescued without it. Equally true is that using the Wild Boar would have inherent risks to both the divers and the children, though whether or not the situation could have gotten so dire that those risks would have been worth taking is debatable. Had the rains continued or the children proved too weak to make the journey out of the cave, things might have gone very differently. We’ll never know.

The Wild Boar is equal parts brilliant and naive, an earnest gesture that’s simply too complex for its own good. It’s the creation of a man who’s turned the impossible into the possible so many times that he now looks at every problem as an excuse to build something that everyone says can’t be built — perhaps a victim of the Engineer-Saviour Trap. There’s little doubt that Elon’s crew has a gift for dreaming up big ideas, this was just a dream nobody wanted.

222 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Elon Musk’s Submarine

    1. Agreed. It’s important that we have people with means who care and are willing to take action, when needed. Although it appears that the solution doesn’t quite fit the problem, he demonstrates his willingness to help, as much as possible, even if he may have overthought the problem.

      1. I have a cat stuck on a tree here. Could really use some help. @elonmusk, could your minions build me a rescue helicopter out of boring machine parts? Spherical in shape, please. Actually, build two of those balls, we’ll pair them up with the sub you left in Thailand as an immortal reminder of your manliness.

    2. People will always get into situations, the more options available the better on short notice for when that happens the better. It would be nice to test in real world environments before it is needed again. The next time someone may have broken leg(s) where this would be a good option.

    3. Very much so.
      And where a situation is fluid, one never knows what will change and what will best fit the new circumstance.
      If by some miracle they knew the method by which they got the boys out would work, the ‘sub’ should still have been brought over and available to be accessed by rescue authorities in the event that the situation changed.

      Unlike the following B.S. (I take it the author has limited or no experience with SAR work)
      “It’s clear that the Wild Boar was unneeded, as evidenced by the simple fact that everyone was rescued without it. Equally true is that using the Wild Boar would have inherent risks to both the divers and the children, though whether or not the situation could have gotten so dire that those risks would have been worth taking is debatable. Had the rains continued or the children proved too weak to make the journey out of the cave, things might have gone very differently. We’ll never know.
      The Wild Boar is equal parts brilliant and naive, an earnest gesture that’s simply too complex for its own good. It’s the creation of a man who’s turned the impossible into the possible so many times that he now looks at every problem as an excuse to build something that everyone says can’t be built — perhaps a victim of the Engineer-Saviour Trap. There’s little doubt that Elon’s crew has a gift for dreaming up big ideas, this was just a dream nobody wanted.”

      It’s like saying “He was stable and we got him down out of the canyon using ropes and a stretcher for the bad parts. There was no need to fly in a helicopter for standby.”

      It’s great that someone with resources did what they could to put another possible solution on site and available for rescue authorities to have another option on hand.

      1. Rubbish. There’s no comparison at all. Helicopters have a good track record of being useful in mountain rescues, and don’t risk clogging up the mountain for everyone if they get stuck.
        The risks of it getting stuck and condemning everyone remaining in the cave are very clear. Even if one of the kids had broken legs there were other options like bringing in a splint which carried lower risks to everyone involved.
        I’m sure we could invent scenarios in which it could be useful (child stuck unconscious in long straight and obstruction-free sewer pipe?), but Musk should have backed out and left his PR stunt for a time when it might be suitable.
        It clearly wasn’t an honest attempt to help, as evidenced by his calling one of the divers a pedo.

        1. Going to agree with Dan here. Even taking a new radio system into the field can lead to disastrous cluster-messes. The last place you want to be learning a new piece of equipment is a life or death situation. I’d consider having it on scene but stored out of the way from the main gear and the press/ families.

          I was thinking about this the other day when I saw someone sharing an article about some new robot for SAR. Unless it outperforms a dog at dog things or happens to be a flying drone with FLIR, few technologies will deliver more utlity per man hour invested than just getting out there and looking around. The terrain is too dynamic for most any ground based robot cheaper than a Labrador, and human perception through visible spectrum cameras and screens would be poor.

          That being said, a fleet of Boston Dynamics Big Dogs independently running hasties and grid searches via SARTopo delegated tasks, then stopping to video chat you in with human shaped, warm objects would be amazing.

    4. I disagree. Over the past month Musk has practically been at war with the media over its coverage of Tesla and Tesla’s problems. To me this whole cave thing was a transparent attempt to generate good PR. After one of the divers told Musk to “shove that useless tube up his ass” Musk called him a pedophile.

    5. I think the obvious solution to the inability to traverse narrow tightly cornering caves is to ditch the tube altogether. I know the thought might sound a tad morbid, but if you take something more like a bodybag, and add a scuba setup on either end and handles at either end to serve as life support and transportation handholds, then you get rid of most of the maneuverability problems. Throw in a radio so you can have a diver in full mask reassure the passenger or give instructions (e.g. “I need you bend here with me. This is a tight curve.”), and a transparent window so they’re not completely blind (but closable incase it serves to calm a panic attack, or hide away something that might frighten a kid (oh, there’s some old bones on the cave floor), or some such event), and I think you’d have a far more useful rescue bag than you’d get from a rescue sub.

      I think Elon was genuinely trying to play the hero, but he clearly wasn’t thinking this one through. Too much PR drive went into it, so instead of focusing on what was ACTUALLY needed or would be most helpful, it was more on the lines of “I got this Space X part… How can I use it in this rescue”.

  1. The whole situation was full of risk. I’ve lost friends in cave diving accidents, and these were well trained divers.

    Certainly the timing worked against Elon’s sub, but that doesn’t mean it was bad idea.

    Simple is always better. Being able to get the youth to use the scuba gear, and trust their rescuers was key. After that it was a matter of using the right equipment, taking their time, and being very careful.

    If things had gone on longer, or if they lost one of the youth or a rescuer using scuba equipment, perhaps Elon’s sub would have been the right equipment.

  2. “All of that talk about Elon being a real life Tony Stark was about to turn from meme into reality; if the gambit paid off, the world might have it’s first true superhero.”

    Still waiting for our first Batman.

    1. Batman lives at the State Prison, convicted of dozens of counts of burglary, assault, and false arrest.

      The good news, though: Since he isn’t a real cop, they’re still allowed to use all the evidence he collected.

  3. Poor pre-research + lame PR opportunity seek + good intentions = something will broke

    salty words about rescue team members on Twitter doesn’t help also.

    Atention on deck! Brace for impact in comment section from elonists. Predictable comment count: over 100 and counting.

    1. I’m on your side, it was a PR stunt. Swimming in a nice open and clear pool is a long way from a cramped and dark cave with flowing turbid water.

      And like you mentioned his shitty comment about the driver was way out of line.

    2. It wasn’t a PR stunt. I think Musk is a decent human being who thought he had the ability to help. His idea wasn’t feasible for this particular cave system but he thought (thinks) it was. Any good will he gained from the endeavor lost yesterday after his twitter melt down.

      1. Musk deleted his tweet as he knew it was inappropriate.

        While Musk may indeed have a sense of community responsibility — his Randian-hero complex left his ego in need of calibration.

        “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (Martin Luther King Jr)

          1. As someone who really appreciates Elon’s desire to do good, this sounded like classic Elon PR/Hyperbole to me from the moment I read the first announcement. I couldn’t help but be worried for ensuing cringe factor of this failing by either not being used, or the extremely horrific possibility that one of the boys might die while inside his “sub”.

            Elon worship is naive, but it’s easy to fall into the trap because he really seems to genuinely care about solving the problems. Anyway, I saw these examples on reddit of Elon being, well.. an asshole. I’m not trying to spread Elon hate, but these pretty much balanced out my own view of him.
















          2. no saying he’s a narcissistic psychopath who wants to be seen as a hero/god.

            he may want to do the right thing but in the end its always about making himself look good at any cost.

        1. If he thought that post was wrong, how come he didn’t have the spine (or humility) to apologise for it and to the diver in question ?
          Musk has a massive ego problem, and can’t handle simple constructive criticism without having a child-like hissy fit.

          1. Maybe he enjoys SCUBA diving and finds the fish on the Thai reefs more interesting than the mud of the Thames Estuary. Maybe he prefers Mangoes to apples. Maybe he prefers tropical weather to temperate maritime weather. Maybe he’s done with the high pressure corporate world and earned enough to kick back on a beach. Or maybe he can still work whilst in Thailand. I don’t know but there’s nothing suspicious about any of those motives. At least, no more suspicious than a South African draft-dodger wanting to live in California.

          2. There are plenty of non-under aged prostitutes in Thailand. I’m sure London prostitutes are expensive. He’s a financial advisor. I bet he appreciates the value of a good deal.

        1. Musk didn’t. Lots of people dismissed the very idea of a capsule to get them out. All the same complaint – it will become wedged in place, immovable, and everyone will die. Or the kids will go insane being in there (they ended up drugging the kids into unconsciousness anyway and demanded a letter from the Thai government before doing so absolving them of blame if that killed any of them.)

          The response was for calling on Musk to personally injure himself and saying that Musk didn’t give any care about the children. Musk’s response was over the top, and the original comment was at least as cruel.

    3. Anyone can donate money to a cause or send out “thoughts and prayers”. The person in question actually tried to help solve a problem. It’s not like he went out there and threw rolls of paper towels at people.

      1. The problem was that Musk keeps trying to solve problems that he’s not qualified to solve. This cave rescue thing was a perfect example. Elon isn’t a cave rescue diver. He and his team had never been to the cave in question. They show up at the scene, unsummoned, with a solution that *ought to* work, and hang around trying to get the people who know what they’re doing to take their oddball metal tube seriously.

        The overall impression that I get is that Musk doesn’t want the problem to be solved, so much as he wants to be the one to solve the problem.

        1. I like the way you put it. Elon seems to suffer from an inflated ego, and needs a little humility. Hard not to be like that, though, when you have achieved what he has.

        2. From his accounts that’s not true and ‘unbidden’ so what? If somone offers help when you need it are ypu going to turn them down because you didn’t specifically ask them?
          As to his qualifications, he’s trained as a scientist and surrounded by scientists and engineers on a daily basis. He may not be a certified cave diver but he’s got the resources to hire a few. Maps of the cave exist and I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard for him to acquire the same maps the rescuers were working from. His project wasn’t feasible mainly due to time and flexibility constraints but his effort wasn’t misplaced. It’s just faster to train someone to bite a regulator and buddy breathe under stress than design and ship a torpedo to navigate a specific cave.

          I think your characterization is a overly cynical, xkcd is more accurate.

          1. >”As to his qualifications, he’s trained as a scientist”

            He’s a bachelor in science, and a bachelor in business – he never finished his degrees. He went for a materials and physics degree for a whole two days before dropping out of engineering school as well to found PayPal.

            If he wasn’t a rich man already, not many people would hire him based on his credentials.

          2. “If somone offers help when you need it are ypu going to turn them down because you didn’t specifically ask them?”

            nope, but i would turn them down if their “help” did nothing to actually advance the solution, which is what seems to happen here. The real problem is that In Elon’s case, his help was also attached to his ego so when he offered up his help he attached such great fanfare to it that a rejection of his solution was a hit to his ego. It also didnt help that the original fan fare probably got on the nerves of one of the people actually diving in there to save people. It would be like Elon walking into the middle of an open heart surgery to give a new tool to the doctors that the doctors didnt ask for, people tend to get pissed off when someone walks in to the room taking away any attention from the actual problem for their own personal ego.

            Simply if Elon just wanted to help and it wasnt somewhat about his ego then he wouldn’t have needed to be there to deliver it. He could have just as easily shipped it over and went on about his day running the companies he is supposed to be running.

        3. Musk has never been qualified to solve any of the problems he has helped to solve. Rockets? Completely self-taught. Electric car design and engineering? Same. Even programming, he was essentially self-taught. This is actually relatively within SpaceX’s field of life support systems and crewed vehicle fabrication. SpaceX also has in-house SCUBA expertise.

          I’m reminded of NASA helping with the coal miners. NASA isn’t a mining safety organization, but their engineering prowess proved essential to the operation. The coal mining saving operation took much longer, therefore there was time for NASA’s solution to be built. If the situation were somewhat different, it’s certainly possible SpaceX’s solution would’ve been helpful. And it should be pointed out SpaceX also helped with the flexible pods that were made by their contractor, Wings Inflatables. Would people be so mad at NASA for attempting to help if they hadn’t been the final solution to the coal mine rescue?

          Musk’s melt-down is a separate issue. He needs to learn how to keep his mouth shut, and he has already paid a terrible price for not doing so, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to pay for that. He deserves it.

          But it really seems to me we should be ENCOURAGING people with resources and skill and drive to focus on helping other people. We SHOULD actually reward people socially for trying to help. Hyper-cynical piling on does not help anything, and such people make me sick and should be ashamed.

          1. He didn’t help solve them. He paid people to solve them for him. Don’t give him undue credit. Despite his degree work, I doubt he did much more than play Project Manager.

            And as for the rescue: The rescue team knew MUCH MUCH MUCH more about what goes into cave rescues than Elon did. Which is why they rejected his proposal. The fact that Elon blew up over it tells us all we need to know about his “Gracious and giving nature”.

            I suggest you go watch some videos about cave diving: That thing was NEVER fitting into a cave, and cave diving both depend on the intense training and the flexibility of a human body that a solid metal tube is not going to give.

        4. ahh it certainly isn’t any sort of norm for the engineers that design items or their teams to be qualified operators of that thing. They refer to those people as E.M. showed evidence of doing.

          1. I guess the crux of the issue for me is that I’m inclined to believe his motivations are in line with a man who chose to put his own branded car in space. When you have unlimited resources and you choose to throw some pennies at some high profile issues rather than nebulous ones like poverty, homelessness, and hunger it doesn’t lead me to believe you are necessarily altruistic at heart.

          2. @Padrote: I gotta vehemently disagree. There’s not nearly enough spent on space. Virtually every dollar spent on space comes back multiplied in new applications, inventions, etc. SpaceX is creating fantastic reductions in cost for space. Tesla is almost singlehandedly making electric cars mainstream. Solar, utility scale batteries, etc… I think the man is doing a fantastic job in picking high-impact ventures to sink his time into. There’s been billionaires trying to put their spin on poverty, education, etc for a long time with pretty mixed results. The benefits that will come from these various ventures of his will continue to pay dividends for a VERY long time.

  4. I don’t know how many sumped areas there were in the cave, but I could imagine this + passenger being an unwieldy liability in any dry areas of passage that had to be traversed.
    My experience of caves is that any inanimate object will get stuck at every opportunity. I think that the rigidity of this device relative to a human body is what made the decision not to use it. There was ample evidence that people could fit through, and that objects up to the size of a diving cylinder would also fit. But I bet the diving cylinders were a whole pile of no-fun too. (I have sherpa-ed diving cylinders in to caves. You end up hating them.

    And, more morbidly, if there is a dead child wedged in the passage you stand a lot more chance of clearing the obstruction than if there is a repurposed rocket part stuck in the passage.

    1. And sorry to be even more morbid, if it gets stuck with a child inside, what do you do? Build another Rube Goldberg style machine in the hour they have left in this world to get them out or just hammer on the outside until they die from fright or drown in their own vomit? I think if I were in the situation of one of the trapped people, I’d rather be free to move my arms and legs than be packed into a postal parcel tube as if I’m some kind of Hypeloop passenger. It takes a special kind of person to even step inside a conventional submarine.

      1. “I’d rather be free to move my arms and legs…”

        But as a Lifeguard will tell you, a drowning person who is thrashing about or grabbing the Lifeguard is hazardous to both. She told me when that happens, she submerges herself, going deeper until the person realizes that down is not where they want to go and lets go.

    2. Absolutely. The problem is that Musk “believed” his solution without the detailed grasp of the facts that were required (eg the actual experience of traversing the cave). This is no different to what goes on at most companies most of the time with management (or ‘star’ engineers). But at a whole different level of publicity and opprobrium.

      1. No – the problem is Unsworth didn’t get his 5 minutes of fame until CNN needed some filler and, having been ignored until then, he lashed out at a famous target. Not one person cared about Musk or the little submarine after the kids were out and now, because Unsworth needed to be seen as the center of the rescue, everyone is trying to decide if they should hang Musk from a tree or just crucify him as an example to anyone else who dares to help.

      1. So, assuming we continue to have natural disasters and accidents like the cave issue, which we most likely will continue to do, this guy doesn’t deserve the power wall he paid for because there was an earthquake? Or a hurricane? Their sales are what put them in a position to help. But that being said, I dont know why anyone would assume a tesla product would get delivered on time.

        1. Tesla made an intentional decision to help a US territory (with a large population that really should be a state) that was largely ignored by the US federal government. The grid there was destroyed, and frankly they do need the Powerwalls more than the mainland US does. This is a basically one-time opportunity to help a lot of people, and I think it was the right decision. Also, Tesla’s resources were focused on getting Model 3 out the door, and they barely met their milestone. They’ll ramp up Powerwalls eventually, but it’d be hard to make the case that Tesla is sitting back and just counting cash while not delivering to customers.

  5. I’m glad this was worked on as a contingency plan. If any of the people trapped were unable to physically make the scuba transit and situation in the cave degraded, what a relief to have another option in hand.

    That said, when scuba diving, if you have a problem like a malfunction of equipment there are well-practiced solutions that are immediate like buddy breathing. Being bolted into this reduces the ability to use those tried-and-tested practices and I’m sure opens another can of worms. As much as it is good to have this as a backup, I’m happy to see it was not needed in the end.

    1. The kids were drugged and were using full-face masks. There was no buddy breathing or even second regulator option. They were tied to backboards and fully immobilized. The biggest difference is that the divers frequently had to go much more slowly because the sediment was stirred up, so they had to feel all around the kids head and face mask to make sure they weren’t about to smash them on rocks. Had there been more confidence in using it, the submarine would have alleviated the chance of injuring them or drowning them, making the rescue much shorter and allowing the divers to concentrate on getting themselves through uninjured.

  6. Hey, just add a few more features, and it could become the first recreational mini sub for exploring lakes and rivers.
    (There’s probably some good reason no one sells recreational submarines, but it seems like it would be fun.)

    1. In the sixties, Popular Science or maybe Mechanics had build it yourself submarines on the cover. They weren’t deep diving and at least one was more of a “scooter” (the driver at least was “outside” and needed scuba gear) but they were there. It was also a time when underwater was almost as big as space. It wasa time of diving sleds, too.

      Maybe some of the shift is more to “Fat Man” type suits, as in Tom Swift’s Jetmarie. Suits not much bigger than a man, but capable of deep depths. The person is isolated from the outside, it’s a tiny “submarine”.

      Michael

      1. The technical challenges to building a so-called “wet sub” like that are pretty minor, certainly doable by an individual. But a “dry” sub is another story. Mistakes there can easily mean death.

          1. Drugs are even smuggled swallowed down in the stomach. So it is just a question of packaging. But the biggest difference is that cocaine does not need to breath.
            I know only about “semi submersibles” and “cargo pod” like underwater vessels. But perhaps they have real manned submarines for smuggling also in the meantime?

    2. There are lots of recreational submarines on the market, but they’re like super-yachts; you have to special order it, even though that is all the company makes.

      If you want to see the advertisements, you have to buy one of those special magazines for rich people that only contain advertisements for products too expensive to be sold in “stores” where the unwashed masses can just walk in and touch it all.

  7. The idea came from my 18 year old son in England on Friday July 6, who posted it to Elon when he was promoting a completely different idea of a 2-mile king inflatable tube. Check his Twitter feed at LukeSpeck@lukespeck2 to see how this unfolded.

  8. It’s easy to view this as a failure for the E Team… but I would prefer to see it as a practice run. The next time there is a super massive oil spill, or a nuclear meltdown at a power plant, I would expect the world to be grateful that there is someone willing to invest engineering hours toward the betterment of a small fraction of humanity.

    1. “It’s easy to view this as a failure for the E Team”

      Nope, the E team did just fine, they came up with a solution given a limited amount of data and a few assumptions. If more of their assumptions were right or if they had more data then it would have been a viable option. The failure is just about their leader for showing that this was all about his ego, by taking anything about this event personally he showed that he really didnt care about the kids but only about the recognition for solving the problem. If he was truly altruistic and only really cared about the kids then his response to the diver would have been along the lines of: “sorry my solution was not useful in this situation, please get in touch if you think that our engineering team can create a better tool for you in your future cave rescues.”

      Think about it from the perspective of the rescue team (who lost one of their own), most people dont like it when someone from outside of their field comes in and tells them how to do their job. Now amp that up by 1000 due to the life or death conditions as well as the loss of a teammate and you can kind of see where the divers were coming from

      1. If not for the team leader’s ego, the world wouldn’t even know the team existed, or had done anything!

        If you have a name that the media likes to print, and you want to use it to draw attention to your team, this is the only way to do it. You can’t get people to pay attention, and also not speak freely. You can turn the dial up, but the signal and the noise both increase. If you want the volume louder, and have access to the dial, you’ll learn this.

        Elon Musk knows this, and he’s willing to take the hate head-on in order to get attention for his team. If he was as egomaniacal as people imagine, he’d hire a team to write his tweets so he looks good; and nobody would ever talk about his team or their qualifications.

      2. So what if it’s a trait shared by most people? It would still be egotistical and foolish to dismiss an idea because it’s not your own, or coming from one of the *right* people.
        If I’m ever in a nasty situation, I certainly hope my rescuers evaluate all options on their merits without such baggage.

  9. that will never work. The divers use rebreathers to have more time underwater using less bottles. On elon tube they use one bottle with air and another bottle is empty. so they use 50% of air because the bottles will equalize. and the bottle of air are feeding the tube with continuous source of air. probably the person inside the tube will have 20 minutes of air. And one of the thumb screws break they cannot open the latch.

    1. Since it’s an enclosed tube instead of a controlled leak they could use a CO2 absorber similar to a ChemBio Enviro-Curtain.
      This should allow a tank of highly compressed oxygen to last six or seven hours.

  10. Doing great things just about demands an outsize ego or maybe even arrogance. This is true whether you are divers taking 12 children’s lives into your hands in very dangerous circumstances or making the world’s first self-landing reusable rocket. It would have cost nothing to thank Elon for his efforts when he presented the tube to Thailand. Nothing except a bit of the spotlight and glory. And Elon should be mature enough to not be so characteristically thoughtless and thin skinned in his response.

    Having said that, Elon needs to realize that all his endeavors are supported by people who have faith in him making great but expensive projects happen. But that faith is an emotional willingness to let him be the hero of his investors and customers who root for him. But they will abandon him in a New York minute if they are ashamed of him.

    1. >>making the world’s first self-landing reusable rocket.
      The team from the DC-X would like to have a word with you.

      Musk just shines up expired patents, government projects and old ideas then passes them off has his (teams). Solar city, hyperloop, spaceX, Tesla, the boring company, not a single new idea he just benefits from decades of material science and miniturization progress. He’s Westinghouse not Tesla.

      1. I totally agree with you on that one! I often wonder what Tesla would think about the use of his name as a pure marketing mechanism. Remember Tesla wanted to better our lives and was not as concerned with financial remuneration or the spotlight.

        A recent documentary I watched also made me wonder if the Trump family ever made money off some of the Tesla inventions considering cases of documents seemed to go missing while in the hands of John G. Trump.

        However good on Elon for giving it a crack, Not many other commercial entities would dare try something like that as their legal team would bury them in risk mitigation paperwork.

      2. The DC-X was a cute proof-of-concept, but couldn’t even make orbit let alone perform guided supersonic atmospheric reentry. The only thing they had working was take off, hover, and land.

        I don’t see anything wrong with building on old engineering deveopments to make something new and awesome. Do you? Would you prefer that reusable rockets remain 20 years in the future? Or did you forget that ULA or Arianespace had no plans to implement reusability up to the past couple of years?

        Yes, SpaceX’s CEO is a hothead. Not much anyone can do about it. I think it’s great that he’s more of a Westinghouse than a Tesla, because it means he isn’t a whackjob pigeon-obsessed lunatic who never brings anything to market.

        1. That was a technology demonstrator, like SpaceX’s Grasshopper. The DC-X did a maneuver Grasshopper didn’t, It could tip significantly off vertical, move sideways then tip back upright.

          Had the government funded the project with real, functioning hardware instead of the X-33 that had *nothing* except pretty pictures and blue sky, space travel would be much different now.

    2. Calling one of the divers that rescued the kids a pederast is beyond the pale. Elon is a creep despite the fawning admiration he gets from the geek set because he builds things with OPM.

      He’s a con artist at heart and the rescuers saw that idiot sub of his for what it was a PR stunt and they quickly told him to leave the area.

      1. Not trying to stan Elon here, but could you explain why the lead British diver told SpaceX to keep building the sub if they didn’t want Elon there at all? This is way overblown.

        1. the same reason you don’t yell at a child that made you a mud pie? that vague sense of pity you have when you understand that while the object was completely useless and poorly thought out they at lest tried to do something helpful.

        2. It was free of charge, and just in case? In a horrible emergency like that, there’s no need to prematurely limit your options. As it is, the method they used was much better, but at the time of the email that wasn’t known clearly.

          They might not have expected Elon to be such a dick about nobody playing with his toys, but ultimately a billionaire getting a bit pouty is a small price for saving the kids’ lives.

      2. Unsworth was not one of the divers. Most of the information about Unsworth comes solely from Unsworth. I have seen no direct quote from anyone else about Unsworth.

    3. The Musk worship is great on hackaday apparently. The response to the PR crap of Musk was the correct one.

      Here we have a team of experienced divers working in hard conditions risking their own lives to save a bunch of people from a dangerous and difficult situation and a nerd “techboy” (playboy isn’t really correct for Musk but …) comes in and waves his shiny metal tube to show “his” genius to the world.

      Disgusting that there are still people that defend this shithead after going around calling someone properly being a hero – not a tech “hero” but a real one – a pedophile.

      1. Unsworth is not a hero. I think the only time he got his feet wet was when the sole of his boot split, so he wrapped it with tape. He may scuba dive – but not in this cave. He didn’t risk his life and seems to have made no useful contribution at all. He does, however, claim that he was key to the entire operation.

      1. It wasn’t some calculated PR stunt, and I think Musk’s uncontrolled (and totally uncalled for) response to it proves that.

        As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

          1. I disagree strongly. Just because a solution wasn’t used doesn’t mean it wasn’t a positive contribution. In fact, I count about 7 or 8 separate methods/efforts to extract the kids, and I consider each attempt a positive contribution, a good deed. It was the collaborative approach that allowed the right solution to be picked. And I don’t doubt that perhaps some of these discussions with alternative methods led to the eventual solution of a stiff stretcher with a drugged child brought out. The solutions that aren’t picked were nonetheless contributory.

            Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design: “4. Your best design efforts will inevitably wind up being useless in the final design. Learn to live with the disappointment.”

        1. Another thought is that no good deed goes un-baited by the media if done publicly. Elon walked right into a PR bear trap the minute he agreed to help out the Thai government, and was clueless enough to not realize where it would end up going.

          1. if you think musk didn’t know what he was getting himself into then you must believe him to be one of the stupidest people in the world. he did walk into a bear trap he was waving flags and had a full brass band walking behind him to made sure saw him walk into it

  11. Fundamentally, this was a situation where the rescuers needed to have absolute confidence in the equipment. I can see how they would simply dismiss the sub because it was something they were not familiar with. When you are making decisions on the fly, familiar equipment is essientail.

      1. they dismissed it when it arrived. Hey if ive got a problem and 8 random people offer to find me solutions for free you can bet your ass that im going to tell all of them to keep working on their solutions (quite often with out even thinking of what their solutions even are because i am working on my own solution). Then i would accept or reject the solutions as they showed up, because why would i take away from the specialized resources i have at my disposal working on the most likely solution to spend time working and vetting other groups solutions.

    1. Feynman talked about that attitude at length; he even wrote a whole book on it.

      There is psychological need to insist that things are unrealistically safe when human lives are at stake, but that doesn’t change what is possible, or the actual safety conditions that the humans involved act on.

      Do rescuers generally just let you die unless they are 100% sure that there is equipment that can save you, or is that not actually the system in place? What happens if there is no equipment that you can fully trust?

      1. There is a difference between reliability/safety and confidence. For the required car analogy – I have a truck with 175K miles on it. Owned it since new. If the need arises, I would have no problem getting in and taking a cross country trip, and be confident it would make it. Could I have a problem along the way? Of course, but I am familiar enough with the truck that I would be able to deal with it.

        So back to the divers. Was their equipment absolutely safe? Nope. Did they trust it? Yep. The submarine was just another variable thy did not want to deal with.

        As for rescuers letting you die? Yes it happens, but I would challenge you to find an example where no one tried to take action. More than likely you would find situations where someone wanted to go in, but were held back by others because the chance of death at 150%.

      2. The first rule of rescue is “Don’t become another victim.”. Practically that means that rescuers will continue to attempt a rescue until it appears that it is too unsafe to do so, or that enough time has expired that it has become a recovery instead. Recovery modifies the risk calculus somewhat. In extremes such as high Himalayan peaks it is often unsafe to attempt a rescue because the would-be rescuer is already at the limits of personal risk and any delay in the death zone is likely to make them another casualty. Recoveries are even rarer.

        Sometimes the rescuer misjudges the risk and pays the ultimate price, as a diver did in Thailand.

    1. The kids did end up being strapped into a stiff, long stretcher, but they were sedated basically. Overall, fairly similar to the minisub, but without the ability to withstand pressure. Made possible in part due to the pumping efforts (which were awesome).

  12. Before Musk came on the scene with his “submarine” idea, the “rescuers” were actually thinking of leaving those kids there until October … can you believe it? While they did not use his submarine, the rescuers essentially used the same idea, just replaced the submarine with a stretcher … perhaps assuming more risk, as there was significantly less protection for the child. So, Musk gets some credit by “shaming” them into taking some action rather than waiting.

  13. Why would they keep asking him to work on it if it was as flawed as many people think. Whatever if the cave flooded with more water. Then perhaps there would be no dragging the device. Next time if there is a disaster and I was in Elon’s position I would be reluctant to help…. no good deed goes unpunished

    1. People think it’s funny, but this mob-scale level of mockery and criticism (literally hundreds of articles and thousands of posts daily, about one guy’s efforts towards something) cause a chilling effect on anybody considering helping out with these things.

      Way more effort was put into coverage, debate and criticism of this stupid submarine than was probably put into its engineering, and that is a gross waste.

  14. I have never commented on this site, after 3 years of use, but I feel it necessary to express my opinion. I’m a ‘down to earth’ Brit who does not succomb easily to hype and self-advertising, but I genuinely thought Musk was being good-hearted, genuine and kind, even if I was a bit suspicious of his other possible motivations… UNTIL… He throws a strop like a spoilt child and then accuses someone of the most heinous of crimes!! He will forever more, in my mind, by a total asshole. All because someone criticised his toy submarine (which is how it comes across; a spoilt child that has had his prize toy criticised). He may be rich (and perhaps ‘successful’) but that gives no right to such abuse – lesser mortals would already be under police investigation.

    1. How about you take your British citizenship and stick it where it hurts?

      Do you feel the urge to call me a prat now? If I mentioned that I’m a spooky, obsessive 60-year-old British “cave explorer” who lives in a third-world country known for rampant sex tourism, particularly by British expats, might you feel any suspicions that I might be a pedo? In a moment of real anger, would you possibly type that out in a tweet?

      I have nothing against the caver, and his efforts are admirable. Acting like a dumbass, taking the bait from journalists trying to make you insult another public figure – that’s disappointing. Not even proving that he isn’t a sex tourist – lame.

      1. My first thought was ‘a small sub is like trying to get a couch through a hallway, it’ll get stuck.’ I mean they said that part of the passage the divers could not have their oxygen tank on their back due to the cramped passages.
        The British guy who had seen the actual layout thought the same.

        Elon not only did the pedo remark but when another twitter user said something like ‘did yo just call him a pedo?’ he replied ‘I bet a signed dollar he is’, so he TWICE said it, and not actually said it, he typed it out which is slower.
        The only excuse is if he had way too little sleep and was very crabby, which is possible since he’s very busy (and I heard he was sleeping on the floor at the Tesla factory at one point).
        Still though, an apology is in order.
        It does not even matter even if they actually found out tomorrow the guy was a pedo, he used it as a lashing out and had no real basis to make such an accusation..
        And he should apologize, and not just because Tesla stocks dropped 3.5% over the whole thing. nor that the guy is thinking about suing for libel.

        1. Update: He now apologized but I notice a small fact I did not hear about before:

          Musk said in his tweet on Wednesday that his words were “spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths & suggested I engage in a sexual act with the mini-sub, which had been built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader.”
          So that ‘sexual acts’ jibe would put the whole conversation on a footing where him jabbing back with ‘pedo guy’ is much less severe in my mind.

          Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-accident-cave-tesla/teslas-musk-apologizes-for-comments-on-british-caver-idUSKBN1K80M5

          1. I’m not sure “stick it up your arse” is regarded as sexual in the UK – it’s barely less polite than “thank you kindly, but no thanks”, and a standard answer for “what shall I do with then”.

      2. What’s “spooky” and “obsessive” about him, and why’s being 60 years old relevant? I have a mate who’s travelled all around the Far East. The weather’s nice, living is cheap, the people are lovely, and there’s so much to see and do. That’s why people go on non-childfucking holidays there. It’s a huge tourist destination, and some people like to stay on holiday.

        Christ I hope you’re never on a jury, doesn’t take much to convince you. What are the steps one takes to prove one isn’t a sex tourist, anyway? I’d like to know in case I ever piss off a childish billionaire from a horribly racist third-world country known for it’s racism and high crime rate.

      3. > If I mentioned that I’m a spooky, obsessive 60-year-old British “cave explorer” who lives in a third-world country known for rampant sex tourism, particularly by British expats, might you feel any suspicions that I might be a pedo?

        Jesus Christ, no, I wouldn’t. What’s wrong with you?

      4. Not even proving that someone isn’t a criminal before questioning a public figure ? What kinda batshit crazy are you?

        ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. A legal principle that has existed since Roman times.

        More recently defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, as “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”.

        So this guy needs to prove nothing to anyone, including ranting egotists or their sheeple, in order to be accorded the presumption of innocence. Musk has charged him with a heinous offense without any hint of evidence, and you have followed suit. Baa!

        Yes, you are a complete and utter prat.

  15. Hey, at least he gave them another option and stuck his reputation out there. Most companies would have spent more time with their legal departments trying to figure out the downside risk. I didn’t see Boeing or General Dynamics step up for this. Remember that in the beginning they were talking about a months long timeline. Not everything he tries is a great success but at least he tries. His project failures and successes are very public while our other tech / engineering companies I’m sure leave lots of failed ideas on the cutting room floor.

  16. “It’s clear that the Wild Boar was unneeded, as evidenced by the simple fact that everyone was rescued without it.” Except for that one rescuer who died… yeah, that one. I was almost nodding along to the article until it got to that point, where it went ballistic into logic-averse Musk-bashing faster than any of Musk’s rockets have. The successful rescue of the kids can be ascribed to pure luck, and even had it gone through casualty-free without a hitch, the evidence-value of single exceptional instance is thin indeed.

    The assertion of the headline that “nobody asked for one” seems patently false clickbait as well on the face of Musk publishing e-mail exchange where one of the actual rescue divers was begging for him to build it. And the line about “With no room to move inside the craft, some speculated the children would have needed to be sedated” falls flat on its face as news has already broken the chosen rescue method required the children to be drugged unconscious.

    Of course, Musk’s comments on the rescue-activist who unprovoked told him to “stick his sub where it hurts” and that he was not welcome at the rescue site were uncalled for, and regrettable. It’s very human retort for all the flack he’s been getting for actually delivering a possible solution amidst all the armchair-engineers postulating about how the children should have been saved. Even the guys caught pumping water back into the cave, instead of out of it, were commended for their efforts without the lynching mentality that even this article seems to espouse towards Musk for for his no-harm-done backup plan.

  17. Please, if imperial units are used, do some homework and write how many is it in International system of units. Saying it only weights 90 pound tell me and others non imperial unit users nothing, 40kg is for me way more impresive. Thanks.

      1. > me and others non metric unit users

        OK, so let’s see who those users are: https://www.indy100.com/article/systems-of-measurement-imperial-metric-world-map-measuring-height-7666466 (this clickbait-y site was one of the top answers to “What country uses imperial units?”)

        The conclusion is, basically, only the U.S. So you are telling me that about 95% of the world doesn’t matter and we all should be using just your units then. American exceptionalism at its finest.

        See how dumb you sound?

  18. Right now I work as a mechanical engineer in a production facility. When a major piece of equipment fails and brings down a line I immediately implement several plans to get production back up. Most of the time one of those plans is a hail mary in case all of the other solutions fail. Until the problem is completely resolved I NEVER cancel that plan, period. Now I may never have to use one of these plans but as an engineer dealing with lots of unknown variables I don’t think criticizing a backup plan that has even a semi-reasonable chance of working is the right way to go about this.
    He screen-capped emails between him and an on-site workers showing there was interest in his help, where he even said if it wouldn’t help he would stop building it. Just because one diver said it wouldn’t work doesn’t mean he’s right (or wrong). Musk’s help cost nothing, we don’t need to be criticizing it or offering him sainthood (or a slot on the Avengers). When the vendor I contacted about my emergency line shutdown gets me a Hail Mary part to me overnighted from another continent, I don’t tell him “it probably wouldn’t have worked anyways.” I politely tell him that our team managed to pull through due to some talented and dedicated people but I’m grateful for his support because it could have been worse.

  19. Look I get that Musk is/was actually trying to help, look at how fast he is to put his money where is mouth is. australia, puerto rico, Flint, etc. Frankly the guy does more to try to help others then most people. He actually tried something, no matter what his personal motivation was it was still more effort then most put into such situations.

    On his motivations I don’t think they are all altruistic. I think many show signs of attention seeking behavior. But I think thats part of his driving force. Setting such a high expectation and trying something new and trying to deliver on them. It’s one of the attributes likely contributing to his success, I personally think that these sorts of things are great for innovation. Challenge and pressing boundaries etc.

    That said I think calling someone that disagreed with your ideas such a heinous thing as a ‘pedo’ that unless he can back it up with evidence is criminal. Slandering someone for voicing a dissenting opinion is just wrong on so many levels. It was enough for me to now avoid his products. I know many might be more forgiving but having someone say I think your idea sucks is one thing. Saying your an abuser of children because of it, that crosses a very disproportionate line. Words in many cases can case more damage than physical acts.

    One last thought/comment:

    Someone above commented “The problem was that Musk keeps trying to solve problems that he’s not qualified to solve.” Comments like that are wrong. Flat out wrong, in my opinion. People that think that way usually can’t solve problems themselves. They apply what others have learned but they themselves cannot innovate. Musk for instance has in fact built successful companies, hired a bunch of people, changed the direction of entire industries. All of that in a very short amount of time. To be so dismissive without recognizing that is shameful. I guess such commenters also believe there is such a thing as “over qualified” as well.

    1. Saving lives isn’t the sort of have-a-go thing anyone can have a bash at. You only get one try. In this case, the cave divers are the experts, first second and third. An attention-seeking doofus with a metal tube might have his say, but when he’s turned down he should graciously withdraw. Or graciously anything. Becoming a huge dick and accusing someone of raping children is not a proportionate response to anything outside of maybe 4chan.

      1. Musk wasn’t “turned down” and this tweet was long after it was clearly not going to be used. Musk made no particular remark on that except that he was leaving the item in Thailand and was gratified the children were all safe.

        What changed?

        An attention seeking guy got an interview with CNN and basically said that Musk didn’t care about the children in any way (Just a PR stunt) and to go hurt himself.

  20. The callback to the “engineer savior” article hits closest, IMO. I believe that Musk didn’t do this solely to get his name in the news and make a publicity splash. I think he really, genuinely thought he could come up with something that people would absolutely need to get this problem fixed.

    IMO the mini-sub is really emblematic of Silicon Valley’s habit of foisting technologically impressive solutions on the world that are totally useless to the problem they want to solve. Much like the $100 OLPC laptop, or the very silly HaD Prize entries about “yuo can turn waste plastic into BIRD FEEDRES, which I assume is useful for people in AFRICA somehow”. It feels like these people are informed by nothing more than watching The Gods Must Be Crazy, and they assume that people outside the West must be roughly as advanced as cavemen, or at best witch doctors and shamen poking at things beyond their understanding.

    Thailand has a functional government that collects taxes, it has well-trained rescue services, it has expert divers operating under its own military SEAL program who have probably *practiced* rescues like this. There are local experts on the area and the cave structure. The country has a thriving engineering culture, and as part of APAC, it has booming manufacturing sector.

    Elon’s first tweet hit it right: “I suspect that the Thai govt has this under control, but I’m happy to help if there is a way to do so.” But then something happened… his “I can save them” complex kicked in, and he decided that he was going to Build A Sub. Never mind the expertise and skills of the people already there, already doing it. Never mind that they didn’t ask for the stupid thing. He just heard the gist of a problem, filled in the gaps by imagination, had a solution made for the imagined problem, and then dumped it over there “just in case”, and of course it wasn’t used.

    The whole time it was the wrong solution to the problem, while perfectly good solutions already existed, and the people there were more that capable of implementing them. Damn if it isn’t America-centric in addition Elon-centric. Why didn’t he trust the Thai authorities and scientists and engineers and divers to solve it themselves? What makes his solution worthy of consideration instead of all the other solutions already being enacted by people on the ground? Why would he think he needs to impose himself on the rescue efforts? If you want to help, send bottled water and air tanks… it’s not glamorous but it is exactly what is needed.

    Silicon Valley types have spent so long getting rewarded for being “disruptors” that they lose common sense – and so here, Elon didn’t see that emergency services is NOT A THING TO DISRUPT.

    1. Because Thais are little yellow comedy-people, who aren’t to be taken seriously in REAL problem solving, I think. Where REAL problem solving costs billions and uses high-tech alloys and fucking rocket parts.

      That’s Silicon Valley and Billionaire Heroes all over.

    2. The Thai government depended heavily on experienced British cave divers and had not trained for this sort of rescue at all. Mostly because flooded cave rescues almost always are body recovery operations, which is what happened the last time these same British divers were called up. Training for cave diving is likely to kill more people than would ever be saved.

      These same British divers, on the day of the first group evacuation, were estimating that as many as six of the children would die during the overall attempt. They got a letter from the Thai government absolving them of liability in the event that one or more drowned or were killed by the anesthesia. At no time was there absolute certainty of success, as the death of a trained Thai diver clearly demonstrated.

      Unlike the divers, who don’t actually build their own equipment, Musk is in a position to build novel and task specific hardware in a short amount of time. Had the cave been a clear-shot 1 meter hole 3 miles long the approach the divers did take would have been fool-hardy and nearly criminal. Had the cave been so tight that no one could get in, there would be no rescue required. Since it sits in between the two conditions, it is not 100% what the best answer is. All we know now is that there was at least one solution; there is no enough information to show that there aren’t a lot more, less risky solutions.

      As it was, there was already a supply of conventional diving equipment, so sending any of that would just add to the clutter and interfere with transport of needed materials.

    3. I call it the cult of the entrepreneur.

      I worked for more than one person very much like Musk, but one sticks in my mind.
      Not a billionaire by any means but a millionaire.

      The problem is that once you have a good idea, it does well and you surround yourself with sycophants, everything you dream up is suddenly a good idea.
      The people that are willing to tell you the truth you call “pedo’s” or other of the many name calling you can see above and get rid of them. Everyone who doesn’t follow your vision is an idiot because you are the glorious leader.

  21. Should have read Heinlein’s Starship Troopers before even considering this an option.

    “It’s better after you unload. Until you do, you sit there in total darkness, wrapped like a mummy against
    the accelerations, barely able to breathe — and knowing that there is just nitrogen around you in the
    capsule even if you could get your helmet open, which you can’t — and knowing that the capsule is
    surrounded by the firing tube anyhow and if the ship gets hit before they fire you, you haven’t got a
    prayer, you’ll just die there, unable to move, helpless. It’s that endless wait in the dark that causes the
    shakes — thinking that they’ve forgotten you… the ship has been hulled and stayed in orbit, dead, and
    soon you’ll buy it, too, unable to move, choking.”

  22. IMHO Elon is good at selling himself but his products never seem to meet tech specs or time deadlines. This was purley PR on his part. A 5 year old could see his sub would not be able to navigate the passageways and you would have to be very brave to want to get in one of his prototypes a and that is under the best of conditions.

    The kids were rescued the right way. By people who knew that they were doing and using time tested equipment and protocols.

    1. I wonder how new equipment and protocols can get “time tested” to your satisfaction if they are never used.

      That being said I would rather stay in the cave than be strapped into that thing, in my opinion it is way too small for somebody with any degree of claustrophobia.

  23. One would suspect that the event will have a strongly negative effect on people’s willingness to help in future disasters.

    There have been lot’s of people with little understanding of either caving or of Musk who have been very willing to comment but unsure which end of the alimentary canal to do it with.

    Where is the rational discussion on the 2nd submarine? The flexible unit that was also designed and manufactured, again by a bunch of good folk who worked ceaselessly around the clock for days.

    History shows a few things of use in this discussion:

    1. At the time that the volunteer work commenced the discussion was both about having to leave the kids in the cave for months and about the possibility of increasing flooding possibly washing the kids away within the time period.

    2. The young folk at SpaceX actively work daily at solving engineering problems that have yet to be solved. That’s how they have managed to do more in 10 years on a relative shoestring than their competitors have managed to do in half a century with trillions of dollars of public funding. Nothing could demonstrate the “whatever works” attitude more than Mr Steven.

    3. Similarly an intern expressed a view on traffic congestion alleviation via tunnelling and now the company that resulted from the suggestion has just won it’s first $.75 billion contract as the Boring Company. So turning that can-do attitude toward preventing the deaths of a team of kids would have been almost a foregone conclusion.

    4. A lot of good folk in SpaceX and it’s small contractors downed tools and got to providing some alternatives to letting the kids drown.

    5. Musk’s companies are turning both the automotive industry and the space launch industries on their heads. He is looking like putting both the Russian and the European industries out of business simply by lowering launch costs beneath their cost of operation. That won’t go down well and will inevitably raise some desire to discredit him.

    6. Musk’s competitors, particularly in the auto industry are large conglomerates who also own media companies so he is accustomed to cheap attacks in the press on an almost daily basis. Water off a duck’s back and usually far worse than just some whining pom.

    7. Irrespective of the hostility of competitors Musk’s companies have released many of their patents into the public domain to help to build industries rather than choke up the IP to simply attain wealth. The goal is to build entire ecosystems to change the planet in a positive way not to just accumulate wealth and generate harm like some bitter old media owner or a pair of sad brothers.

    8. The interview wasn’t Musk’s finest hour and it would have been far better for him to ignore the pom; the joys of armchair retrospect. This said I would suspect that he was far more concerned about the slap in the face to his team than he personally. It sends a poor message to future technologists who may wish to weigh in on rendering disaster assistance, a strongly chilling effect in reality.

    9. Worse it ended up looking like two old tarts arguing over the husband at a funeral, it only succeeded in detracting from everyone’s efforts. The dismissive and somewhat tribal comment from the British gentleman lessened everyone involved and that was a pity as the rescue was an amazing feat of courage and ingenuity by ALL involved. It was humanity at its finest so the comment from the diver was completly unnecessary.

    10. Irrespective of the outcome it would have been far more gracious for the dive team leader to simply say thank you for the offer of assistance rather than telling the good folk that took considerable time out of a busy schedule to take their hard work and bash it up their arse.

    11. The capsules (two, rigid & flex) will inevitably undergo more development and end up being valuable resources if only because of the encouragement provided by the red-flag-to-a-bull statement “That’s how we’ve done it in the past”. SpaceX is built on disrupting past practices and finding better solutions to “proven techniques”. I can think of a past occasion where winching a litter off the stern of a yacht in a heaving sea when a sealed capsule would have been a godsend. Helicopter winch cables and flailing yacht rigging don’t interract well. I hope that they continue the work on the devices. After all there is little discussion of risk mitigation or what the outcome might have been if the rescue technique employed had resulted in fatalities ( this is a statement of fact not a criticism).

    12. Anyone who has observed Musk’s progress for a while will have a different view of his media presence. So this in mind it would have been infuriating to be told by someone clueless of his manner of operation that he was in it just in it for the PR.

    13. In short, he doesn’t tweet “look at me” posts like that other tiny fingered orange Kremlin employee.

    14. Instead the tweets are “look at this cool thing that the team has done” and through those posts he has involved a huge community and brought them along for the ride with he and his team. It has always been this way and hundreds of thousands of space geeks are eternally grateful that he has let them into the industry for a look around.

    15. It is no accident that as a consequence there are streams of STEM kids that are competing to get a job with his company. It is also no exaggeration to say that as a result of his willingness to share that he has set in place a new layer of the commercial space industry.

    16. Chris Hadfield raised an interesting point at one of his speaking engagements regarding the industry needing to attract the best and the brightest. Look carefully at the little girl in front of the TV in the Falcon heavy launch; she might end up being an Astrophysicist instead of a lawyer as a result of that day.

    17. If musk had launched a lump of concrete as a mass simulator on F9 Heavy it would be already lost from public memory, instead the launch is burned into memory along with Armstrong’s footprint. Only the ignorant will write it off as a cheap stunt.

    18. While Musk and his team have achieved more in a decade that many of the existing government contractors achieved in half a century, the great thing is that thru it all he brought us all along for the ride. It would be sad to see that ever change simply as the result of a wall of criticism from the ignorant. In a world overloaded with people with a problem for every solution it is refreshing to see someone who generally builds people up and makes stuff happen with a focus on the far future instead of next quarter’s figures.

    It might sound like a fanboi post but in reality it simply expresses a frustration with a world that has become so willing to tear down anyone who tries to have a go. In over a half a century of industry watching Musk is a breath of fresh air.

    The greater disappointment with many of the posts that appear on Hackaday is so much of the mindless drivel passing as reasoned criticism and tribal nonsense comes from within the tech community itself.

    1. 6. “Like water off a ducks back.” More like an angry goose hissing at anyone who gives it one wrong look.
      8. All his justifications (and now-deleted tweets) show that he took it very, very personally.
      9. And his response was also completely unnecessary.
      10. It wasn’t even the dive team leader, it was someone down the chain of command that happened to get a news interview. The leaders of the rescue operation had the sense to keep things polite and professional, whatever their personal opinions were.
      14. Disregarding that time he called a guy a pedophile, sure.
      17. Nope, that was a very expensive PR stunt.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful Musk offered to help. It’s great he had the resources to put together a last-ditch plan on very short notice. But I’m a little surprised he didn’t realize his solution would have a chance to be tried only if all other avenues failed, and rather disgusted by his comments.

      1. 17. So was landing on the moon.

        OP is right it wil be remembered. You’re both right.

        10. Armchair experts wading in trying to tell a team of professionals what to do is not helping. Asking them “why can I do” is helping. Trying to sideline them for the sake of PR is not helping and is distracting others from what actually needs to be done. Its’ high stakes gambling and Elon should not have been playing games with the lives of children.

  24. If you are sedated, which increases the risk of vomiting, and you do vomit into a full face mask while under water you have a choice, drown in your own vomit or drown in the water, because you are sedated and can’t help yourself. Your only hope is that your guides notice in time and can somehow get a mouthpiece in place once you stop vomiting and before you try breathing water, i.e. you have very little chance of surviving. Whereas in a tiny sub you just have to live with the stink for a few hours, assuming you were strapped in the “coma position” and not on your back, plus in the sub you may need less or no sedation and can watch a little LED screen to keep your mind off what is going on around you.

  25. Scuba takes more than a few hours to master. It’s not just learning to use equipment, you have to train the mind and body. Learning to stay calm, relaxed, and focused, avoid panic, doesn’t happen quickly for most. Some take to it real quick, others never do. Scuba isn’t for every one. In a class, at the local pool, it goes wrong, you simply stand up, spit out the water, cough a lot, try again. Cave diving is extreme, very risky. The rescue was a huge risk, a lot of luck and prayer, as well as the high level skills of the divers. These kids weren’t in the greatest health to be going for a swim, probably weren’t strong swimmers to begin with. Mentally and physically exhausted. The rescue was truly a miracle to pull off like they did.

    I think Musk’s intentions were sincere, wanted to help, and would have done anything, spent what ever need to help. If the rescuers would have had a specific plan, I’m sure Musk would have provided what they wanted/needed. He did what he thought best for the situation, as fast as he could, while many others worked on other solutions as well. It was a race for time, the heavy rains were coming, expected to start an time. They took a very high-risk solution, over safest, as the only hope of success. There was a lot of stress, emotional investment, anger and frustration. I’m sure there were a lot of words exchanged, that many regretted later. Musk was just a high profile, so his words got more attention. Really think we should all look past the words, and trying to read more into motivation, and just be thankful it went so well, only one life lost, where it could just have easily been many more.

    I hope Musk will continue to step in, and offer his help and resources in the future, to help anyone in need. He didn’t just write a check, and hope some of it makes it’s way toward a solution. He rolled up his sleeves, and went to work to provide a solution. A good example to others with the means, charity isn’t just writing a check, and patting yourself on the back.

    Nobody is perfect in every way, we all make mistakes, we all fail from time to time. The key, is to learn from our own mistakes, and those of others, and try to do better the next time. I doubt Musk needed the PR, his business is healthy, no reason to take a risk on something like this. Suppose they did use his sub, and it went horribly wrong, got stuck, the victims and divers trapped, with no way of getting supply, and no longer able to get out? Would he and his company be held accountable?

    The whole event was a simple miracle, they were very lucky to have survived 9 days, and been found. Even greater, extracted in good health, just before the torrential rains began (rainy season). Stuff like this doesn’t turn out well often, why distract from the glory, and the heroic work done?

  26. Congrats to the well written article! But there is one sentence I’d like to correct: “The Wild Boar is equal parts brilliant and naive…” It should be “The Wild Boar is equal parts narcissistic and naive”.

    1. Please forward that personally to everyone on Musk’s team who worked out the design and tried to come up with both potential problems and solutions to every contingency they could think of before putting it together and carrying it to Thailand. I’m sure they view their attempt to help save children’s lives the same way you do and will buy you lunch.

  27. When Elon tweeted that another possibility for the sub was a “Space Escape Pod” I did some back-of-the napkin work and found it’s quite feasible.

    Using a Pod + Human mass of 200kg (gunna be too light but the math holds) with an identical mass of Hydrazine propellant, using a single Draco thruster (Not the SuperDraco) from the Dragon capsule, the pod has enough Delta-V to escape to the Earth’s surface from low lunar orbit.

    Now if a practical pod + occupant is 500kg, then 500kg of fuel is required, the two figures scale exactly together and you keep the same single-engine arrangement and the same Delta-V comes out.

    1. One good application for the concept be an escape pod for nuclear submarines as it can fit inside the torpedo tube.
      The present escape system can only be used a few hundred feet down and the rescue sub requires the stricken sub to be mostly vertical.

      1. Interesting idea, I been inside an older design diesel electric sub, can’t remember the class, there was barely room for torpedoes let alone anything like the tiny sub for escape purposes. A nuclear sub may have more space but I think Elon’s design is not so suitable.

        1. Yeah I was gonna say, surely some engineer out there has already done the calculations and decided on the optimal escape system to meet the needs of the submarine’s mission and crew. That’s their job.

          Someone who has never had a government contract to work on a real submarine has no clue if it would work or not. Obviously Musk is just spitballing at this point. “Oh you could use it to escape from a submarine! Or um… an escape pod for a rocket? Oh I know, you can fill it with water and then ship it to Flint, MI and solve their water crisis. It also could be spray-painted for a nice Christmas decoration. Give it to your wife as an anniversary present!”

  28. Me: I’m just a bit too short to reach that book on the top shelf

    Musk: Here, I can be a quad vectoring hyperthermic cosmo…..etc etc

    Me: Na, I’m good thanks Elon, I’ll just get a stool

    Musk: You’re a paedophile

  29. https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-full-story-behind-Elon-Musks-involvement-with-the-Thai-cave-rescue-effort

    An interesting timeline of the process and worthy of a quick read.
    I would suggest that the reason as to why it all went truly pear shaped in the reporting of the matter is that while Musk is accustomed to regular highly vindictive and personal attacks in the media this went a step further and attacked the team behind him. This may explain the less reasoned and more emotional off-the-cuff reply, eg. Pick on me but leave my kids alone.
    Musk is attempting to build a company culture where young people are trained to apply their knowledge to achieve an outcome with extended consequences for the good of mankind, whether mankind is smart enough to take advantage of it or not. People are encouraged to think outside of the box and sometimes this doesn’t always supply an outcome but the process is important.
    In my company we view success as a second order outcome not a primary goal. The focus is on the application of tenacity, clarity and ingenuity as these are the factors which must be applied in the battle with reality. Success will flow as a result, not as a primary goal.

    1. Musk is no humanitarian. Musk is for Musk.

      His cars just shift the source of the pollution to the power plant and infrastructure required to make his cars(that tend to become crematoriums for virtue signalers) . Solar One? A money pit no one else wanted. Space X is about his only honest venture. Even then it’s based on 60 plus years of rocket technology.

      He personally attacked and smeared one of the men who lead the rescue effort because he didn’t fawn over the great Musk and his idiot coffin sub. This isn’t the sign of mental health.

      Did he give the family of the dead diver any help? No. So much for love of his fellow man.

      Instead he’s building his new car plant in China to make use of sweatshop $1.00 a hour labor where there are no labor or environmental laws. I guess it works better than hiring foreigners working in a tent and building cars by hand.

      Yep a real visionary.

      1. > His cars just shift the source of the pollution to the power plant and infrastructure required to make his cars(that tend to become crematoriums for virtue signalers)

        To be fair, it’s a hell of a lot easier to scrub pollutants from one factory / power plant than a thousand individual cars. There’s value in centralizing the fossil fuel burning, if it must be done at all. Besides, you can replace a coal plant with a solar one – but you can’t really replace a “plug-and-charge EV” with a solar car.

        It’s not an original Musk idea, Nissan has the Leaf etc. but the idea of moving power production from the road onto the plant is, on balance, probably worthwhile.

        1. not really, it’s jumping on the bandwagon and shifting pollution from one country to a 3rd world back water where no one sees it to extract all the rare earth metals.

          You know China still has internal residency permits? The state can limit where you go and where you live. If you want to take issue about environmental pollution I suggest that you are holding a different passport and are happy never to go back. But at least you’ll get out !!

          Where is the hydrogen economy? Iceland was planning it, but wait, their country got decimated by “big finance” before they got a chance.
          Want to play environmentalist? For a super low cost, here is a small place with few natural resources that could run entirely on geothermal and hydrogen if only a visonary with enough money would come along and fund it.
          Problem is, technology transfer doesn’t have huge $ signs outside of the place, what with everyone talking about putting oversize D cells into vehicles and the US government essentially funding his vision through massive public sponsered funding.

        2. The biggest problem with Musk’s electric cars is that they’re twice as expensive as regular cars, and last half as long because there’s no suitable battery chemistry that would last more than about ten years in use. Nobody wants an old electric car – it would cost more than the value of the car to make it go again – so the cars just go to scrap.

          Here’s the kicker: price is pollution. People who pay Musk to build over-expensive vehicles need to make that extra money somehow, and that means having economic growth which consumes resources and energy and pollutes more, unless you’re talking about a “jobless growth” which means just increasing the income disparity so a bunch of rich assholes can pretend to be green.

  30. This sounds like the anthem of millions of failed companies. A business lives on clients, and clients are fickle beasts that rarely care how much innovation went into a product. This is why making innovation your focus isn’t the best idea; all the brainstorming and ingenuity in the world ultimately boils down to, “yeah, but is it really worth my hard earned money?” Sure, there are business models that can make it work, but said businesses usually rest on a mountain of corpses composed of their fallen kin that failed doing nearly the same thing.
    Success means more money for innovation; Innovation means a roll of the dice that might lead to success, or hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars down the toilet.
    Of course when you have a billionaire patron, and a number of titanic financiers, you can afford to throw money into a shredder all day long for years and still have people think you’re a success despite billion dollar loses, just like Tesla!
    So I guess the moral is, you can do whatever the hell you like, so long as you have a veritable sugar daddy to pay you to dream big!

      1. I agree with your sentiment but perhaps I was not clear. The purpose of the clarity is to focus on the task at hand. If the task is not cost effectively addressing the client’s problem then it’s a hobby.

  31. I’m an operations guy.. limited on one side by the laws of physics and on the other side by soft constraints like budgets and available resources. My worldview is different from that of Big Picture guys. They want to show something is possible. My job mostly involves knowing and addressing the ways it can fail. The gap between the two tends to be wide.

    I don’t see any contradiction between Musk offering to help out of legitimate goodwill and Musk offering to help because it would be good PR. I reject the idea that it can’t be virtue if there’s an upside for the person doing it. That leads to the conclusion that virtue can only be self-destructive, and must therefore be stupid.. a false dichotomy that enables the cop-out, “I may not be virtuous, but at least I’m not stupid.”

    I agree with the comments above about having lots of plans, and continually adjusting as conditions force new decisions. I’m willing to think good thoughts about an individual or company that throws resources at a skunk works project when there’s an active emergency. If I can use their work as intended, cannibalize parts of it for something else, or use the damn thing as a doorstop, it serves a constructive purpose.

    That said, anyone working on some part of an emergency response needs to know who’s in charge and defer to them.
    That person is busy, and if there was time for ego stroking, it wouldn’t be an emergency.

    Beyond that, hypothesis contrary to fact is where the rubber meets the sky. If you really want to know how something that didn’t happen might have happened, get out of the armchair and try it. In the first thirty seconds you’ll discover the first dozen things you never considered, and the world will be richer by one person who realizes they had no idea what they were talking about.

  32. Sorry I did not read all the post.
    All I wanted to say is: Thank you everyone in the world for making this all come out the way it did.
    That includes the little man pulling the pipes to the people giving out the water, and everyone giving there prays.
    And yea even to Mr Musk.
    Now we just need to get some people to do the right things and shut up, to help make the world a better place.
    I really can’t believe they are alive.

  33. When you become a billionaire and then use all your personal money to replace the oil industry so we dont have to breath in shit air, then you can shit all over Elon, until then the magnitude of his effors is positive for all of humanity outweighing all the negatives.

    Now if he can give me a Model 3 in yellow!!!

    1. You know he just shifted pollution from the car to the power plant, the Chinese factory and toxic waste dumps(for those batteries when they die).

      And his fortune is mostly thanks to conning the government our of billions.

  34. I believe Musk has excellent engineers but this time they were not able to express opinions because of his ego. This case shows it’s either just PR or terrible understanding of engineering process. Let’s see …
    Guys on crisis site say that cave passages are so narrow they had to remove their air tanks to pass through them and also bend in the process. They also say kids will have to do the same because passages can’t fit a kid with an air tank. So enviroment parameters are pretty good defined, therefore specs for rescue aid have to meet those parameters. But Musk’s response is rigid unbendable structure that is longer than an adult person, and also thicker than an adult person with an air tank. So specs are completely ignored, exceeded by at least 50%, and resulting aid is definitely not able to fit through passages. That’s probably what made rescue divers mad about that “solution.”
    So they used somehow similar solution, but one that meets the specs instead of ignoring them. It’s skin-tight, it enables kid to bend and it’s not longer than a kid. And that’s why it works, because from engineering point of view it’s properly done. Not to mention it’s tested thousands of times in realistic enviroment, instead of just few times in completely different enviroment.

    1. Said it before and it obviously needs repeating. There were two sub designs, three if you include the flexi model of the rigid. There was the rigid tube & it’s flexi copy for the test fit, but there was also a completely separate flexi bag model which was more like a body bag with air fittings. These were rapidly evolving at a time where there was considerable discussion about having the boys trapped for months or just drowning outright in soon to be rapidly rising flood waters. Keep in mind that these are people currently working on space suits and all sorts of composite fabrics for use in incredibly hostile environments. More power to them for offering assistance instead of just moaning about it online like the rest of the armchair experts.

      1. Saying “why didn’t YOU solve it if you’re so damn smart” doesn’t really address the core issue here.

        I DID do something to help: I stayed the hell out of the way of the rescue workers and let them do their jobs.

      2. Saying “not my area of expertise” and leaving the cave rescue planning to people whose area of expertise is cave rescue is in this case much better then claiming you have life-saving device that is in fact life-threatening device. Saying “look guys, I have money but no needed knowledge for this specific situation, let me get 10 cave rescue experts and fly them to Thailand.” would be much better idea. And will also work as PR, but much more positive.

  35. Well according to my calculations the engineering aspect of the rocket is per diem to the effect of social length of matter to the subject of a atom is realistically a ideology method of performance. The fact of the matter is the reach of systems is specific to the generic system 1 of the rocket launch from Apollo 11. The cave system would allow a specific entry from behind if the rocket of the team entered Mr. Musk’s rear end. Now, after the engineering aspect is calculated the rear end will be widened enough for the entry of the submarine to inject its juices. This is just a brief calculation of my consideration to the nation.

  36. Everyone wants to complain but those with experience in diving knows that if something snags your tank or mask, it is possible for the mouth piece to come out of your mouth and for kids who never swam or scuba dived before to panic and drown. It is also dangerous because it is pitch black in some parts of the cave so if the mask came off then how does someone who never swam before find the air piece under water in darkness? This is why a submarine or inflatable makes more sense than just human spirit.

    People ask for help all of the time and I’m not defending him but what right does the diver have to complain about those who offer help? What information was offered to Musk that he should have known better or should he have traveled to Thailand to scope out the cave and traveled back to California to make the rescue device? What time do you think would have been lost?

    This product could be used in other situations as life saving equipment and I applaud Elon for stepping up and doing something for people.

  37. Despite all the rants against Musk, which I whole heartedly agree with, I’m sure there’s a bit of that tendency in all of us to try to bring an overly complicated technical solution to a problem.
    Could one of HAD’s writers put together an article on how and when we need to back out and not try to solve things?

    1. I have a friend who is amazingly famous for coming up with solutions that are overly expensive, complicated, or create more problems than they solve. I try and shoot for inexpensive and simple. I have found over the years that things get complicated enough without any help.

      One thing to remember is that in some situations, the best thing you can do, even if you are qualified, is to stand back and let the people that are already there and have a better grasp of the situation, work unfettered and not be in their way. In this case the best thing people could have done was offer up a check. In a disaster area there is a fine line between being part of the solution and being another problem.

      If I pass an incident if I am the only person, I try and get proper help, and render aid if necessary. For example if someone was in a car wreck, I would call 911 and stay with them. If the car was on fire I would pull them out. If there are already people on the scene and I have some trait that I think may make me qualified to assist, I will ask. The one thing I will not do is force my way into the situation or make myself a burden to the responders. More often than not the best thing I can do is just go on down the road and not add to the spectacle, and not take it as an offence if the locals say they have the situation under control.

      You don’t need to be another car in the way, or in a disaster area another mouth to feed and body to have to house unless you are pulling some weight.

      Hopefully elon learned a bit from this.

  38. …it completed at least one manned test dive before being shipped to Thailand.

    I swam in a swimming pool yesterday, too, for the first time. Guess I’m ready to do cave rescues!

    1. The divers used folding chairs and kids in a swimming pool to test their ad hoc methods of removing the kids from the cave, the same sort of testing this was put through.

  39. YOU FOLKS ARE SO DAMN NEGATIVE!
    The dude made a full scale prototype and tested it practically over night. For free. With his own company resources. All in an effort to save kids trapped in a cave. They wound up sedating the kids anyway… they would have done the same in the sub. Moving a floppy, half awake kid through dark, narrow passageways would be incredibly hard. The sub would have at least provided a rigid structure that could be banged around a little. It was a solid effort, with a solid prototype. Even if it is a PR stunt, its a PR stunt that actually had a chance at helping save lives. Major kudos to the SpaceX engineers who threw that together! Many people here are saying “oh you need way more testing,” clearly they have never designed, built, and tested a full prototype in a few days. How many more tests? For how many days? If you were trapped in a cave for a few days let alone weeks… I imagine you would be pretty stoked to see that sub come through the dark for you.

  40. I mean, its probably better to have it and not need it rather than need it and not have it. And yea, maybe this or an evolution of the idea could be used in the future. Failure is data.

  41. The fact the LOX transfer tube is 16 inches across (according to all the specs I have read) which means approx 41cm across, and musk says it is 31cm across is very worrying.

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