What’s left behind
Nick was struck by a number of things as he reported in the Rio Grande Valley. One, he says, is how quickly things are changing in Brownsville.
He’d been there before, back in February 2020, just before the pandemic. Inflationary and gentrification concerns you might not expect in a remote region like the Valley, Nick says, are playing out there, too. Rents, for example, have soared by nearly 20% in the last year alone
. And space really has taken over Brownsville,
with murals of Musk, the stars, and rocket ships seemingly everywhere.
“If Musk’s city of Starbase becomes a reality, the disparity will become even more apparent. It’s a fascinating scene, but it also begs the question of what is lost, which I think is the essential question of the piece — the interplay between longing for change for the better, while coping with what will be left behind in the process.
It’s actually the question of all science, of the very rocket fuel that Musk wants to ride to Mars, right? Energy can neither be created nor destroyed — it can only be converted from one form to another. There is an essential, beautiful, Mexican-American culture in the Valley now, which is already being lost, and which will very likely only remain as a shade of its former self, as has happened in Austin.”
Failure as inspiration
Another thing that Nick says he thought a lot about was, as he puts it, “the curious case of Musk.” He’s a larger than life figure. And a character study of him offers surprising lessons, Nick says.
One, which didn’t make it into the story, was something that the university’s engineering professors mentioned. Nick says that the professors taught him how failures were a key asset of Musk’s interstellar strategy.
“While most news coverage focused on the fiery explosions of each ‘failed’ launch, Musk sees each one as a way to get to success faster: The data obtained exposes flaws faster than a careful, measured, decade-long approach of engineering would. … To the professors, this was novel, because it was the exact opposite of what they taught in their classes — it flies in the face of a modern trend toward cautious engineering that focuses on bringing a perfect product to market.
When asked why he thought he could build a spaceship or an affordable electric vehicle, Musk is frank with interviewers: He didn’t think so. In fact, he thought failure was far more likely than not. But his attitude was that some things should be tried, even if they won’t succeed. It’s an attitude that the principal Mary Solis — a woman with a life an unimaginable distance from Musk’s, even if only a few miles from him physically — found inspiring and meaningful, especially since Musk himself struggled as a student.”