on tuesday at tham luang in thailand, the last of the 12 members of the wild boar soccer team and their coach emerged from the cave safely, and elon musk looked on, his kid-sized submarine on-hand and ready should it be needed. a rescue team had spent the past three days getting the boys out following days of planning. in his own coinciding mission, the lead designer and CEO of spaceX, had seemingly done the same, the details of which were divulged divulged in a series of tweets.



it all started when a random twitter follower asked for his help, prompting a response from musk outlining his readiness should there be a practical way for him to do so: 



like that, the money power and know-how of a multi-billionaire, with several technologically advanced companies at his finger tips, had been brought on board. what’s more interesting than a multi-billionaire engineer muscling in on a search and rescue mission happening on the other side of the world however, is how exactly that multi-billionaire engineer, practically assists in a search and rescue mission happening on the other side of the world. luckily, a scattering of information over twitter outlines exactly how…



1. musk offers his hole-drilling expertise

thai cave rescue: engineering behind elon musk's 'kid-sized' submarine reveals a multi-billionaire attempts at heroism

did musk envision burrowing a way into the thai cave? image of the first boring company tunnel under construction in LA

image courtesy of the boring company



on july 5, musk offers the expertise of his infrastructure and tunnel construction company, the boring company. unfortunately, the offer never gains momentum because of the risks involved.



2. inflatables and valiums are quickly suggested as possible remedies

thai cave rescue: engineering behind elon musk's 'kid-sized' submarine reveals a multi-billionaire attempts at heroism

inflatables could have been sent into the thai cave
image courtesy of mad river union

photo by giovanna castro salas



tapping in one of spaceX‘s contractors dubbed wing inflatables, a collaborative approach outlines plans for an inflatable pouch that could carry the boys.we manufacture inflatable recovery parts for spaceX,’ says CEO of wing inflatables andrew branagh. ‘so we have a relationship. when elon had an idea, he asked our engineering team to get a hold of us.

thai cave rescue: engineering behind elon musk's 'kid-sized' submarine reveals a multi-billionaire attempts at heroism

image courtesy of mad river union

photo by giovanna castro salas



we started with a concept at 8 am and had a prototype in the pool being tested the same day,’ branagh continues.then the team stayed until 1 in the morning and built more units.’ the following afternoon, musk’s jet touched down in arcata to pick up the inflatables. ‘a third of the factory went to the plane to wish it luck,’ branagh says.


equipped with airlocks, the pouch could be pulled along by a diver, resolving the issue of the boys not being able to swim. by turning parts of the pods one way, they would float, and by turning around others, they would float. to keep the boys calm during a long, claustrophobic voyage, branagh suggested valium.



3. meanwhile, musk directs spaceX team to transform falcon rocket into ‘kid-sized’ submarine

thai cave rescue: engineering behind elon musk's 'kid-sized' submarine reveals a multi-billionaire attempts at heroism



on july 9 musk revealed that the spaceX team has been testing a kid-sized submarine made from the liquid oxygen transfer tube of a flacon x rocket. it was hoped at this point that the pressure controlled tube, which was 12.2 inches in diameter, could function as an escape pod, skinny enough to be guided through the narrowest parts of the caves by expert divers. with the engineering process underway, musk continued to update the public via twitter:





thai cave rescue: engineering behind elon musk's 'kid-sized' submarine reveals a multi-billionaire attempts at heroism

the liquid oxygen transfer tube of a flacon x rocket
image courtesy of @elonmusk



4. musk’s kid-sized submarine makes it on site and the inflatable pods disappear

image courtesy of @elonmusk



despite musk’s efforts to invent a resolution, the rescue operation which was already underway in thailand began successfully retrieving the boys. however, the kid-sized submarine was still delivered on site, although the inflatable pods never resurfaced. ‘leaving this here in case it may be useful,’ he tweeted. ‘thailand is so beautiful.’


whether or not the device would have helped had it arrived any earlier, or if the methods already put in place had faltered, is unknown. musk’s disappointment with the media criticising his attempts to help are clear as day however. in response to gizmodo blogger, adam clark estes, who recalled musk’s previous failings to deliver in other situations, he tweeted: ‘this reaction has shaken my opinion of many people. we were asked to create a backup option & worked hard to do so. checked with dive team many times to confirm it was worthwhile. now it’s there for anyone who needs it in future. something’s messed up if this is not a good thing.’

  • “Too many cooks” … in a rescue situation someone has to lead and direct based on first hand information at the site. Any decision will have its risks. Musk is a leader in what he does or himself. The notion that he can be all things to all situations is magical thinking. In this case … “all’s well that ends well”.

    Leonardo Sideri says:
  • Musk and his team invented, built, and delivered two new life-saving technologies in a matter of days: that’s superhero fast. Anyone who builds large, ambitious companies will be controversial, but Musk’s results speak for themselves. He’s assembled a simply awesome invention factory, and will be compared by historians with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison (both of them were deeply flawed).

    Paul d'Orleans says:
  • Please don’t glorify Musk’s publicity grab. He wasted people’s time.

    Chris P says:
  • A clear case of not understanding limits. Not all solutions involve machines. Keep it simple stupid 🙂

    Rich says:
  • I don’t know, personally, knowing the urgency of the situation, the high risk of failing and the crazy small window of time mother nature granted, being on the rescue team I would be really really glad to know some other qualified people are working on plan B, C or D while I give my all on plan A. The stakes must have been so high for those divers, that knowing not everything is lost in case of failure must have helped somehow on their moral.

    Chris says:

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