Feb. 1, 2023


0:35 SpaceX and Elon Musk 1:02 the US government...ICBMs to not carry nuclear weapons, but instead carry satellites into orbit. S Unknown Speaker 2:45 went into my study in called Elon back  5:28 there was a guy named Bob Zubrin who had started...

0:35 SpaceX and Elon Musk

1:02 the US government...ICBMs to not carry nuclear weapons, but instead carry satellites into orbit. S Unknown Speaker

2:45 went into my study in called Elon back 

5:28 there was a guy named Bob Zubrin who had started the Mars society.

7:33 they had designed a plant growth chamber for Mars that NASA wasn't willing to take the risk

7:49 we went over to Russia to buy the rockets 9:36 we started SpaceX

13:09 He [Elon] called me on Friday night and wanted to be there Saturday morning with a private jet.

14:28 the Google founders wrote him personally a check for several 100 million dollars.


Unknown Speaker  0:00  
You know, we launched a couple of satellites out of Russian submarine, this guy starts talking to me about wanting to show that humanity, we can become a multiplanetary species Elon is up in front of us just tapping away on his computer. What the fuck do you think that idiot savant is up to up there?

Unknown Speaker  0:18  
Jeff Sterns connected through cars, if they're big wigs, we'll have him on the show. And yes, we'll talk about cars and everything else. Here he is. Now, Jeff Sterns.

Jeff Sterns  0:34  
So you just mentioned SpaceX and Elon Musk as if my listener knows that Jim Cantrell has that background. So do you mind setting that up a little bit?

Unknown Speaker  0:58  
As a result of the work, I didn't rush up in the 90s. For the US government, one of the things was we've converted ICBMs to not carry nuclear weapons, but instead carry satellites into orbit. So turning swords into plowshares, if you like. And we, you know, we launched a couple of satellites out of Russian submarines, I'm probably one of the few Americans have been in Murmansk, which is their submarine base in the northern part of Russia. And, you know, we did that with some other ground based ICBMs. So, about 2001, after as well done with the Russians, I get this phone call out of the blue, from a guy that I thought his name was in musk. And I was it was a Friday afternoon, I was on my way home. And at the top down on the car was a beautiful July afternoon in northern Utah, in the summer is God's country. It's just this is fantastic. I imagine Northern Michigan is about the only thing that sort of competes with it. But somebody I'm on my way, only for three months. Exactly right. And it was like, just like northern Utah, it's same thing colder than hell the rest of the year. So So you know, this guy starts talking to me about wanting to show that humanity, B can become a multiplanetary species, and all this sort of thing, and that he needed to talk to me because he needed Russian rockets. And I was the guy that he was told could help him buy Russian rockets. So you know, you mentioned the Cinco Pay Pal, which I'd never heard of, and, you know, how he just left there and so forth. And, you know, I said, Look, I'll call you when I get home, because I can hardly hear you. And I said, fine. So I got home, you know, said, Hi, the kids. You know, this was early afternoon, went into my study in called him back and you know, it was dark about cell phones. This was a Motorola StarTAC you know, cool phone. So I called him back, and I get the fax machine. And so I'm thinking, okay, he told me, he was a internet billionaire and all this stuff. And I think he right, so use a fax machine to make phone calls good. Didn't didn't believe it, you know, so about 20 minutes later, he calls me back and he's angry. And he wants to know why I didn't call him back. And I explained, and it's like, okay, well, this is my mobile phone. So he starts in on this whole thing about, you know, sending sending mice to Mars and proving that humans could could transit the time to Mars and the six to 14 months. And, you know, that he wants to do this mission with his with his own private money. And, you know, he could he could borrow his money, you know, drinking my ties on a beach somewhere, but he rather blow you know, with a space missions. And so I, you know, this was not, you might sound this might sound unusual, but it was not an unusual occurrence. And I have these guys with a lot of money at a Silicon Valley wanting to do this. I'd probably fielded, I don't know, six or seven different calls like this over the prior few years. And this was, you know, at the time, the internet bubble was kind of about ready to burst.

Jeff Sterns  4:07  
And Tesla was not Tesla

Unknown Speaker  4:09  
was a thing, but it wasn't his thing. Yet. He was not a founder of Tesla, by the way, that was Martin Eberhard that founded Tesla. He became an investor later and then forced Martin out, but that's a whole other story. So at any rate, you know, so I had had, you know, the gross brothers and ideal have and I taken some of these guys to Russia and so forth. And they're always interested in this and they always paid me well. So I would do the consulting and cast a check and go on my way, buy a car with it or whatever. So So Elon, you know, it was very insistent, wanted to come fly into our local municipal airport and come visit me in my home on Saturday. And I said, No, you know, because I'm Maga kids. I don't know who this guy is. He could be a nutcase and nutcase with a private aircraft. I don't care if he's wealthy And so I lied. And I said, Look, you know, I'm busy, but I'll meet you in Salt Lake City because I've got to fly to Salt Lake City tomorrow or Sunday. And he agreed. So what I figured is he couldn't pack a gun behind security, this was pre 911. So you could go behind security without that actually having to have a ticket and so on. So we rented a conference room and he showed up and that's where we started planning this whole thing. And there was a guy named Bob Zubrin who had started the Mars society. And Bob's written a number of books called the case for Mars and so on. All this stuff. So he was he was he was the person whom I knew that had bled Elon to me. So Bob showed up as well. And we started this mission, right. And so

Jeff Sterns  5:47  
now he showed up, Bob showed up at your invitation or part of Elon villans invitation. Okay. And you rented a conference room at the airport.

Unknown Speaker  5:58  
Yeah, it was in the Delta, Crown room. And so they had a little conference from there. And so, a couple 100 bucks, I rented the conference room. And that's where we had our first meeting, right and afterwards, took them out and took my favorite restaurant in Salt Lake City and, and watch Bob's slop the soup all over the table. And, and then we've made our plans and when, when, when about executing our plans to do this mission. So one of the first things I did was gathered a team of people around me, because I had worked with JPL. And new otter guys did the Mars missions, the Mars Pathfinder that had been recently successful. So I called them and then some others that had been consulting night. You know, there's a bunch of us that didn't want to be part of corporate America. And I'm certainly one of them. And so I had a lot of friends that were like that. So I called them got them involved. So we put a team together. And we started looking at this mission and quickly decided the logistics of sending my son, you know, million mile journey to Mars and back, had his challenges that we didn't want to face. And I had some friends in Tucson, which I presently live in now. But at the time I didn't, they built the biosphere. And if you don't know what the biosphere is, it's a closed facility where a team of eight spent two years that without any anything coming across the boundaries, it was meant to simulate a trip to Mars, and how a crew could live in a closed ecosystem. So they had designed a plant growth chamber for Mars that NASA wasn't willing to take the risk on. And so we sold Elon on this. And so it became a lander with a plant that we call Mars oasis. So with that design, we went over to Russia to buy the rockets, we there was a couple of launch vehicles that I was familiar with, that would work. And so made the arrangements, we we made two trips over there. And on the second trip, which was in November of 2001, you know, we tried to actually put a contract together with these guys. And first one we went to, we were dismissed, you know, Elon was 20, something guy who dressed poorly, and that's important to the Russians. And these guys didn't care if he had all this internet money, they, as the Russian said, they considered it bullshit. And, you know, they didn't know I spoke Russian, so I, I would let the translator do the work and listen. And there was all sorts of interesting derogatory comments about Elon behind the scenes column, a little a little boy and things like that. So So we walked out that first one after having the chief designer of the Design Bureau spit on our shoes, which was sort of a sign of, we really have to get out of here. So we did and second second group we went to are a little more westernized because they've been working with some of these western aerospace companies. And they also likewise refused. In fact, the one of the guys that was with us, there were three was Elon, me and a guy named Mike Griffin. Now, Mike, if you look him up, was became the NASA administrator later. At this time, I could just disliked the CIA. I knew him from that. And he was just consulting but you know, so he later became the NASA administrator and then Undersecretary of Defense under Trump, you know, so later very important. And so so these these guys all bid us farewell, and in one afternoon, so their own fate because we started SpaceX based on this and SpaceX put all these guys out of business, and at least out of the launch business. So all of all of Russia's commercial launch business has gone because of because of SpaceX. So you know, we headed back to the airport that afternoon after the sun successful second meeting, and we were on the airplane and Mike and I are sitting in the in behind you On a couple rows, it wasn't very crowded. It was a Delta flight 31 back to New York City. And every time the plane takes off, you know, from Moscow, you feel like you're on sovereign territory again, there's a sense of relief, right? And so Mike and I decided to celebrate with some whiskey and Elans up in front of us just tapping away on his computer. And Mike, he was raised by an army colonel, so you can't, you can't, you can forgive him for speaking this way. But he nudges me with his elbow, and he says, What the fuck do you think that idiot savant is up to up there? And I, I looked at him and I said, I don't know plan nine to save the earth. And Elon turns around to us, he goes, No, guys, we can build this rocket ourselves. And Mike looked at me and I looked at him, we rolled our eyes. And Mike says, well, Elon, there's a whole graveyard full of dead bodies, you're gonna have to walk over to get to that point. It's not like, nobody's ever tried this. And there had been a lot of failures, right? So this was not a new aspiration. And he says, But I have a spreadsheet, you know, I said, all my nobody's ever made a spreadsheet of the rocket. So there, you know, so Elon is like, Fuck you here. Take a look. So he sends his computer back, we we had a look at it. And surely it was it was a pretty good spreadsheet. And so I asked him, I said, Where? Where do you figure this out? I know, he had borrowed my college textbooks on launch vehicles and propulsion. But there wasn't really enough in there to do what he had done. And so he, he admitted to me that that he had been hanging around with some of the other guys in the design group that I'd put together. And their hobby, instead of racing cars, or doing something sensible, like that was building rockets in their garage. And, you know, we're talking 30 foot tall rockets and going out into the, into the desert and launching them and having them come down and smash all over the desert floor. So you want to go out and seen one of these flights. And just it was sort of like he'd saw God, you know, and he imagined that, hey, you know what, these guys can do this with beer money. Imagine what I can do with, with with real money that I can raise, right, so that that's what Elon brought to the table is his ability to raise capital?

Jeff Sterns  12:07  
Can I back you up just a little bit? You said that you'd had six or seven calls over the prior year to have guys that claim that they want to do something like this or, and it was hard to take them serious? You end up in a conference room with Elon in this delta, you know, airside conference room? How long were you with them? And when did he flip you from you think he interested another one of these phone calls to buying in or wanting to actually take an action with it

Unknown Speaker  12:40  
that was with him about two hours on this meeting. And I would say prior to even meeting with him, he kind of had me because of his insistence on doing this now. And that was unusual. So most of these guys had a much more casual pace about them. But you know, it was as if it was as if his his tail end was on fire. And he was trying very hard to put it out. And he was moving fast as a result. And you know, he wanted to come to my house. He called me on Friday night and wanted to be there Saturday morning with a private jet. And this This was not normal behavior. Like no, yeah. I didn't want him in my house, you know, and it would be a little awkward. You know, now I've kind of feel dumb, but you know, at the time, I think it was prudent. But yeah, the the rest of them, you know, like the the gross brothers, you know, it's part of their business plan. And, you know, we did actually take some trips over there. But you could just tell by their, you know, their sort of way, they talked about things. They weren't very committed, they were interested in exploring what this might do. And, you know, Elon was it was, it wasn't anything about exploring, it's like, Okay, our next step is this, this this, it was very concrete steps that he was taking along the way. And you could just tell he was very determined to do this. My only question is, did he have enough money and I, you know, even to the day I left, I didn't think he had enough money. In fact, I was right. Because they got to the fourth launch of their Falcon one, which was the the original rocket that I saw the spreadsheet design of, and they were down to $137,000 in their bank account. And, but but their fourth one had been successful. And the Google founders wrote him personally a check for several 100 million dollars. And that he invested that back into into SpaceX Tesla, by the way, and so that's how they that's how they survived that. And then Then what happened on top of that was the shuttle got retired and nobody saw that one cutting really nobody saw the Columbia accident happening. And so NASA had to have a replacement. So here's SpaceX was so so you know, Have, you say I'd rather be lucky than good? Well, he's both he's, he's lucky, and he's good. And that's worked out very well for him. But you could just tell the smartest guy I've ever, ever dealt with, you know, by far more intelligent than me or you or anybody I know. And an unusually intelligent, somewhat scary how a quickie picks up on things. And, you know, as I, as I dug into, you know, once I knew his name wasn't me, and it was Elon, I dug into his past, you know, on Saturday. And I can tell the guy was very, very real, you know, it was this was, PayPal was his second company, it started. So you can tell he had this serial entrepreneur thing, and he had yet another thing he called the musk Foundation. And one of the things he told me, that I still haven't forgotten to this day is, you know, explained his life philosophy is, there's three things he wants to accomplish with his life. One is to show humanity could be multiplanetary species. Second is to get humanity off of fossil fuels. And the third is to develop technologies in ways that the tyrants and governments of the world couldn't control the freedom of movement of humans. And so, you know, I, except for the fossil fuel thing I can get behind the other two, the fossil fuel thing I didn't feel as strongly as he did, but, you know, what, what you would see is, is, you know, Elon was really, really true to that vision over time, you know, Solar City, and then Tesla and so on. And you could see that in his in his much Foundation website, you know, and he was funding things and so I just, it just had the air of real

Unknown Speaker  16:45  
this has been Jeff Sterns connected through cars

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Jim CantrellProfile Photo

Jim Cantrell

CEO & Co-Founder

Jim Cantrell is the CEO & Co-Founder of Phantom Space, a company democratizing access to space by building mass-manufactured rockets, satellites, and space propulsion systems.

Prior to Phantom, Jim was a founding team member and Vice President of Business at SpaceX, with internet pioneer Elon Musk, where he helped develop technical concepts, markets, and overall corporate and product development strategy. His career also includes assignments at the French Space Agency CNES, the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, and includes the founding of several entrepreneurial space startups and teams, such as Moon Express, StratSpace, and Vintage Exotics Competition Engineering. StratSpace worked on nearly 50 successful space missions and satellite programs, and as acquired by Phantom.

Jim received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Utah State University, he also worked as a research engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Here, he worked on Mars exploration technologies, including several Mars rover missions.