Not so long ago, billionaire Elon Musk spent more time talking about Mars, rockets, electric cars and saving humanity than he did politics.
Something in Texas' water must have gotten to him since he moved here in 2020. We wonder if his increasing forays into politics, combined with the distraction of his Twitter acquisition, could hurt his Texas endeavours, of which he has many.
His companies – SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Co. and Neuralink – have growing operations throughout the state. From McGregor near Waco to Boca Chica by the Gulf, the tech mogul has invested much, employed thousands of Texans and made plenty of promises.
But instead of talking about how the Texas-made Starship rocket could someday help humans become multiplanetary, or SpaceX's growing network of Starlink internet satellites, or how weird life will become with Neuralink brain implants, or the latest feature of Tesla's Cybertruck - Musk has been shaking things up at and on Twitter.
If there is a "public perception" warning in one of Musk's SpaceX control centres, its red lights are flashing and the alarms are sounding.
Some might see Tesla's rough 2022 as the most obvious sign that something is awry. Its value plunged 65%, or US$700bil (RM3 trillion), over the year despite setting sales records and growing deliveries 40%.
Some say the Twitter deal coupled with Musk's odd – and sometimes offensive, immature or politically charged – tweets are driving customers from Tesla. Critics and fans alike point out that the stock market and other automakers struggled in 2022, Tesla is battling more competition in the electric vehicle space, and the "adjustment" is a natural phenomenon for an overvalued stock.
But stock market waves and social media messiness aren't hobbling Tesla's massive Gigafactory in Austin. It's been making Model Y sedans and is slated to start production of the Cybertruck this year.
Development and growth also continues at Starbase, Musk's Starship factory and launch facility near Boca Chica Beach outside Brownsville.
Nathan Burkhart, director of business development at the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation, estimates that between 2,000 and 2,500 people now work at the complex.
Musk's purchase of Twitter and social media distractions haven't slowed development at Starbase, according to Burkhart.
"Every time I go out there, there's more rockets and more boosters," he said. "You can still get within 30 to 40 feet of the rocket itself, which is amazing."
But Musk's presence at Starbase seems to have decreased since the Twitter buy, Burkhart said.
SpaceX crews have been preparing the Starship rocket and its Super Heavy Booster for the system's first orbital launch, which could occur this year.
After months of delays, the Federal Aviation Administration found Starship operations at Starbase would have "no significant impact" on the delicate wetland area and required SpaceX to complete 75 actions to mitigate potential effects.
On Saturday (Jan 7), Musk teased a possible Starship launch date when he tweeted, "We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely."
That's the type of Musk messaging we've missed since he finalised his Twitter purchase in October.
Maybe he should listen to the results of a recent Twitter poll, where he asked whether he should "stay out of politics" or "keep shooting his feet" and 57.2% of nearly 600,000 respondents voted for him to stay out of politics.
Tim Dodd, also known as "the Everyday Astronaut," is a celebrity among space enthusiasts. He operates a media network that aims to make space interesting and accessible for the layperson.
"I just miss logging onto Twitter for behind the scenes updates and details of the most exciting rocket program ever," Dodd wrote in response to Musk's Twitter poll. "It also used to feel like there was a constant feedback loop of improvements for Tesla. It feels like there's less of that now."
We agree. – San Antonio Express-News/Tribune News Service