Remember July 10, 2018: It’s the day we hit Peak Tech. First, the drama: twelve young members of the Wild Boar soccer team were rescued from a cave rapidly filling with water, and whose escape route was as small as a meter wide at stages. Divers compared the mission to crawling through a toilet S-bend. Life-preserving water pumps failed just as the last boy emerged.
Then, the farce: Standing watch outside the Tham Luang caves was Elon Musk, Tesla, Boring Company and SpaceX chief, and real-life Tony Stark. Musk first suggested he could help the rescue on July 4, proposing – via Twitter – several ideas for submersibles and inflatable tubes that could be sent into the caves.
Richard Stanton, a British diver at the scene, urged Musk to continue building solutions. And he did, posting tests and thoughts to social media throughout.
Soon Musk was in Thailand, posting videos of the cave entrance: its darkness enough to send a shiver down anybody’s spine. A spokesperson for Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Thai prime minister, thanked Musk for his “ingenious solutions.” But they were ultimately shelved, leaving the story’s filmic denouement to divers and military experts.
Musk left his mini-sub, named for the kids’ soccer team, at the scene, “in case it may be useful in the future.” If the image of a multibillionaire space explorer, standing outside a Thai cave Tweeting about his mini-sub with the blessing of a national government, isn’t Peak Tech, it would be great to know what is.
At this point, this reporter should clarify: Musk’s attempts to aid the rescue, and his mobilizing of staff to make Wild Boar possible, are an undoubted act of good faith. It follows the magnate’s sending of a thousand Tesla power packs to storm-battered Puerto Rico, whose treatment by the White House has better resembled 19th century British colonialism than a 21st century democracy.
Musk faces detractors closer to home: Tesla’s Model 3 vehicle is delayed, and has weathered several safety scares. SpaceX’s mission to the stars has stuttered too – leaving many to wonder whether its chief’s Thai mission was an exercise in image laundry. (Perhaps it’s ironic that Wild Boar could allow people to explore earthly depths, about which humanity knows even less than the heavens Musk craves to visit)
The answer to that is no. Musk has faced near-constant criticism in the past couple of years. And while his attacks on the media and celebrity-entrepreneur ego do little to endear, Musk’s heart, in this case, is most certainly in the right place. Tony Stark he may not quite be. But if entrepreneurs know anything, it’s that one failure does not make one a failure for good.