Well Done, SpaceX, Elon Musk, et al.

In last month's "Brave Thinkers" issue, I had a brief Q-and-A with Elon Musk, founder of (among other enterprises) Space Exploration, or SpaceX. Today, of course, SpaceX had an apparently near-flawless flight of its Falcon 9 spacecraft, from liftoff at Cape Canaveral to splashdown in the Pacific three-plus hours later. This is an important step in commercial, low-cost space flight -- and well done to all involved.

The version of the Q-and-A we ran in the magazine was necessarily shortened. After the jump, a passage that was condensed in the magazine version, on the endlessly absorbing question of whether the U.S. has rebound ability despite all its current woes. Congrats!

From my interview with Elon Musk for our November issue:

>>Americans like to celebrate our culture as unusually "innovative" and to think that we have a long-term advantage in this regard over other societies, including China. Is that belief justified?
I think it is. Which is not to suggest complacency. We need to be vigilant that we have the right environment -- and that we are attracting the best people from around the world. The situation with immigration is like having a sports team, and there is some fantastic player on the other team. Do you want them playing on your team, or the other team? We should be in active recruitment mode.

As long as we don't create a stifling environment, at least relative to other countries, and as long as we are encouraging enterprising people to come in, we don't have to worry about remaining innovative.

As you think about your own career as entrepreneur, and about your colleagues in the tech industry, do you believe that innovators are "born" or "made"? Do you take risks because it's your basic outlook, or because of experiences and instruction?
I think it is some combination of the two. If I had been born in some cave, I suppose I would still try to be innovative, but there would be limits. You have to have the environment that encourages innovation as well. Let's say I had been constrained to live in South Africa, where I was born. I would not have been able to achieve a fraction of what I have.

The environment in the US is supportive of big ideas and striving to better yourself. In a lot of countries, to attempt to exceed your surroundings is frowned on. In France, polls always show that to have inherited your money is considered more admirable than to have earned it. That is terrible! In the United States, earning it is celebrated, which is better.<<

A reader in France, as it turns out, has written in to ask for details about the polls that reveal his country's antipathy toward entrepreneurs. We'll look into it. However that turns out, the message is worthy.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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