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Home / Business / Elon Musk had a tense meeting with Texans that SpaceX wants to buy out

Elon Musk had a tense meeting with Texans that SpaceX wants to buy out



  • Elon Musk shared new details about SpaceX's planned Mars-capable crew system, called Starship, September 28.
  • SpaceX develops and launches Starship prototypes next to Boca Chica Village, a small neighborhood of retired Texas-born seniors.
  • Referring to security and disruption concerns, the rocket company recently offered to buy everyone's home in the area. But most residents first met the deal.
  • While in town for his much-awaited speech, Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, met privately with some of the residents.
  • Villagers attending the meeting described it as "awkward," "tense," and "heated," but ultimately productive in feeling Musk ̵
    1; and SpaceX – were listening to their complaints.
  • Visit the Business Insiders homepage for more stories.

Hours after the fans cheered him up. on stage in South Texas, Elon Musk entered a morass: a private meeting with disturbed locals whose properties SpaceX, the rocket company Musk founded, had recently offered to buy out.

Residents say that Musk listened attentively to their concerns and squeezed some of the fears of the acquisition process. But they described their roughly half-hour encounter with the technologist as "difficult", "tense", "heated", "confused" and "exhausting" – even if it ended with handshakes, selfies and some sense of progress. [19659008] Musk heard his tough audience just before midnight on Saturday, September 28 during a visit to Boca Chica. The remote strip of land is located on the southeastern tip of the state, and this is where SpaceX builds a private launch site and aerospace.

But that's also where about 20 retired-age residents live in the former sleepy residential area of ​​Boca Chica Village, some of them for decades.

"We did not play well with him. We made it clear that we were not happy," said a resident of Business Insider. The person attended the private meeting but asked not to be named.

Why Musk met villagers in southeast Texas

  spacex starship brand mk 1 mk1 steel spaceship prototype boca chica texas launch site 2019 09 29 GettyImages 1171862750

A prototype of SpaceX's Starship, called Mk 1, is the rocket launch company in South Texas at Boca Chica September 28, 2019. Future versions of Starship are designed to be massive enough to take people to the moon, Mars and beyond.

Loren Elliott / Getty Images


Musk's main mission for the trip was to deliver a much-awaited update on SpaceX's plans for a next-generation rocket system, called Starship.

If realized, an operating 39 story launch vehicle could one day fly people to the moon and help colonists move to Mars, perhaps for the price of a modest home.

"The critical breakthrough necessary for us to become an aerospace civilization is to get aerospace as air travel," Musk said during the presentation while standing in front of a 16-story steel prototype.

However, it is critical to make such a breakthrough room to safely build, test and launch such Starship prototypes – vehicles that Musk has said last year could explode (though this is a risky reality for any rocket testing program ). SpaceX has largely used Boca Chica for this work, and Musk's presentation, which included a new visualization of the Starship launch that shows big plans for the coastal site, underscored the company's hopes for its new space port.

"I think it is certainly possible that the first crew of the Starship could leave Boca [Chica]" said Musk.

However, SpaceX has set up its rocket skunkworks near the inhabitants' homes. The company built the launch pad just 1 1/2 mile from properties on the eastern edge of the community – twice as close as NASA allowed onlookers to get to the Florida shuttle.

 spacex south texas sotx map boca chica brazos island location zoom google earth marked

An overview of the Boca Chica area of ​​south Texas ca 2017.
Google Earth


Increasingly, vocal complaints from residents about excessive safety, road closures, a major brush fire started with a prototype launch in July, alerts warning of possible missiles in the rocket and other disruptions – plus a mandate from the Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) to increase liability insurance 33 times – SpaceX in mid-September sent all homeowners a "non-negotiable" offer on offer.

"[I] It has become clear that expanding space flight activities as well as compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration and other public safety regulations will make it increasingly challenging to minimize disturbance to the villagers in the village," the company's cover letter states.

 spacex starship brand mk 1 mk1 rocket ship prototype south texas boca chica village house roof GettyImages 1171862419 EDIT3

A prototype of SpaceX's Starship vehicle is pictured behind a home in Boca Chica Village, Texas, September 28, 2019. SpaceX tries to buy out the inhabitants of this community to expand the space activities.

Loren Elliott / Getty Images


But SpaceX's seemingly generous pitch – three times an appraised value for each home – frightened many if not most residents.

Some told Business Insider that they planned to move permanently in the area and were not interested in moving.

Almost everyone had concerns about the offer's basic estimates, claiming that they were abnormally low, and that even a triple offer would not come close to paying for a comparable coastal home in South Texas. (Some residents described the ratings as "lowball" and "drive-by," since they did not evaluate the interior of the homes.

Residents also told Business Insider that comparing properties used to inform value was based on properties which SpaceX bought under heavy as well as suburban homes in Brownsville that did not compare to their bucolic coastal environment.)

Someone who wanted to stay said they feared a prominent Cameron County-led domain process based on Boca Chica finally forcing them out to make room for SpaceX's worldwide ambitions.

With excitement peaking and Musk in town, SpaceX decided to put its CEO and a cadre of residents in a room to arrange things.

SpaceX stopped a resident from trying to record the meeting. But according to interviews with five people who were in the room, that's what happened.

Residents initially said that they & # 39; felt we had been set up & # 39;

  elon musk spacex starship march rocket update presentation September 28, 2019 youtube 3

Elon Musk unveiled the 164-foot-tall Starship Mark 1 prototype in Boca Chica, Texas, September 28, 2019.

SpaceX / YouTube


Days before Musk's Starship presentation, SpaceX invited the villagers to come. Around 10 people RSVP had, and SpaceX picked them up by shuttle. Helping to corpse and greet everyone was a senior attorney for the company from Washington, DC, as well as a government and business associate who worked onsite in Boca Chica.

The last shuttle ran into SpaceX's work yard shortly before 8pm, where workers had finished assembling a 16-story prototype of the Starships spaceship the day before. Residents say their handlers led them to a sandy area just a few feet to the left of a small riser, which Musk stepped on and talked for about 40 minutes.

Immediately after leaving the scene, SpaceX allowed the residents to make the trip to the shuttle, which they expected to drop them at home less than a mile away. But once everyone had boarded, SpaceX invited residents to join them at Stargate: a two-story technology park funded by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley facility (which SpaceX uses as a launching control center).

"They turned around and said, & # 39; Well, we're going to take you over here to the Stargate, upstairs, and we're going to get a special guest to meet you there, & # 39; said Patricia Mitchell, who has owned a home in the village since 2005 with her husband, Walter.

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SpaceX workers rush to and from UTRGV's Stargate facility for a launch pad during testing.

Dave Mosher / Business Insider


They came to a spread of wine, beer, cookies, chips and other snacks. The group became comfortable in sofas, chairs and stools waiting for the "special guest", who they could only assume was Musk.

While residents settled in the Stargate, Musk returned to the scene at SpaceX's work yard to ask questions from the media. Christian Davenport of The Washington Post asked about SpaceX's long-term plans for the Boca Chica site.

"It will definitely be nicer than it is at present. The reason it is not better is because it would take too long to build the buildings," Musk said. "I think there will be many more buildings and much more stuff. Way more stuff than what's here."

 spacex starship march rocket rendering illustration launch flying earth orbit boca chica texas youtube september 2019 00001

An illustration of SpaceX's planned 39-story high starship rocket system at a launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX / YouTube


Later, Jeff Foust from Space News asked about the future of residents in light of the FAA's apparent security concerns.

"We're going to make sure the risk to the audience is extremely, vanishingly low. Almost nothing, basically," Musk said. "I see no fundamental obstacles. We work with the residents of Boca Chica Village because we think oh, it's about time, it's going to be pretty disruptive to them – to live in Boca Chica Village. Because it will end up needing to be trusted for safety many times. "

He added:" I think the actual danger of Boca Chica Village is small but not small. So that's why we will have super-small risk. Probably over time, [it’s] better to buy out the villagers. And we've made an offer for that effect. "

Most residents in the Stargate room didn't learn about questions or answers or Musk's comments – the clearest yet from the company about the villagers. "futures – until just before 23 o'clock

" We would rather have been down or flowing. We just weren't enough enough, "said Maria Pointer, who was there with her husband, Ray.

" Everyone felt like we had been set up, "Walter Mitchell said." We had questions we wanted to ask right there and has media exposure. "

Read more : See Elon Musk reveal SpaceX's new plan for Starship, a rocket system designed to populate Mars

When some of the occupants of space played of the streaming video of the Q&A session, upset at missing the comments – and when they were in their second hour of waiting at Musk – SpaceX's senior legal adviser approached the room, announcing that Musk would arrive in 15 to 20 minutes , noting that anyone who had to leave could be driven home. She also opened the floor for concerns or questions to pass.

"She was inviting dialogue at that time," said a resident at the moment. " all to unload on her. "

Citizens began to question the "non-negotiable" wording in their purchase offers. They also brought up what some described Business Insider as an "aggressive" two-week deadline to accept the deal, as well as what everyone apparently felt was an underestimation of their properties.

"We all felt this deadline, and three times, and & # 39; not negotiable & # 39; – we felt it was a threat," Walter Mitchell said.

When the complaints went out, a few residents resigned. One person forgot the pain medication, and her husband followed her out. Another left from exhaustion. Silence came across the room just before Musk walked in, which at one time or another was around 23.20

& # 39; Nobody knew how to talk to this guy & # 39;

  elon musk spacex presentation talk starship brand mk 1 mk1 boca chica south texas september 28 2019 loren elliott GettyImages 1171856896

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gives an update on the next generation Starship spacecraft at the company's Texas launch facility September 28, 2019 Chica near Brownsville, Texas.

Loren Elliott / Getty Images


Musk arrived with about five or six people and immediately went up to the residents, most of them sitting in a small semi-circle with chairs and a sofa. Everyone got up, and Musk shook his hands as he began to talk about why SpaceX chose Boca Chica to be the company's private aerospace sport.

"He talked about the Florida regulations and why it was better for them to be here instead of Florida because things could be done a little faster," Mr. Pointer said.

After a few minutes of opening remarks, Musk paused and it was a short break.

"It was quite difficult. Nobody knew how to talk to this guy," said Mrs. Pointer. "You can tell that people felt excited or flattered."

But Mr. Pointer apparently broke the silence. In an interview with Business Insider, he said he wasted little time in expressing to Musk how he thought the delimitations and SpaceX's offer for a buyout process were generally unfair.

"I said I thought it was inconceivable that we had to see ourselves – in so many words – expelled at a short notice and Damocle's sword over our heads of eminent domain. These are not my exact words, but they are definitely what I wanted to get out, "Pointer said. "And then Mitchell chimed in with his feelings about it – similar sentiments – and then everybody started going for it."

Mitchells explained how the offer they got for their property, which the couple planned to give down to their children, would not buy them any comparable set-up in nearby South Padre Island, the nearest beachfront property market (although much warmer that a popular tourist destination).

"He was very polite and listened to what we had to say about that matter," Pointer said. "He just absorbed it and waited for the next blow."

When someone addressed the "non-negotiable" problem with the offer letter, Musk chimed in with an edit.

"He says," It's negotiable. & # 39; And everyone says, "Is it negotiable?" Said Mrs. Pointer. "It surprised us and swam us."

While the triple figure was not negotiable to be fair to everyone, Musk apparently explained, SpaceX would consider new appraisals that addressed residents' concerns. Shortly thereafter, two residents said that they asked about eminent domain and whether those who chose to eventually become forced out of security or convenience.

"He said he didn't want to do that, that's not what he wanted to do," Pointer said. "But that's not an answer to the question."

Read more : SpaceX wants to buy a small Texas neighborhood. It may not force residents to relocate, but a nonprofit that supports the company exercises that power.

Two other residents reportedly said they "didn't mind" SpaceX's presence and asked for a stay, according to others in the room. (One resident previously described Business Insider as "Texas's largest SpaceX fan," so much so that he moved to Boca Chica in 2015 to retire amid the company's launch.)

Residents set up a SpaceX community meeting held in 2015, not long after the company broke ground at the launch site. According to residents, officials reportedly said the company would – while temporarily evacuating its launch under a previous (and now abandoned) plan – occupy hotels in Brownsville, about 20 miles west of Boca Chica.

Walter Mitchell made clear: "There are people here who want to keep their property," Mitchell said, telling Musk. "I said," You said in that meeting that you wanted to take us and put us in a hotel. "I said," Can it work? And they can keep their property? ""

"Well, if they don't mind a shuttle to a hotel often, we probably can," said Musk, according to Mitchell. [19659008] Residents also raised other complaints and needs: a request for soundproof windows, a more polite and helpful on-site contact with the company and more openness from the company about its activities.

Free Teslas and selfies

After sending their complaints and feeling heard by Musk, the residents told Business Insider that the "heated" and "exhausting" mood of the room began to change. It turned out to have happened when Mitchell's cracked a joke: Could Musk throw a free Tesla electric car into everyone's purchase offer?

"We started laughing, almost all of us," said one resident, though Musk then explained that even as CEO, he is required to buy his own cars from the company.

From there, the inhabitants said the previously "heated" conversation mixed between a mixture of joke and technical explanations. The SpaceX tab struck up a conversation about metals used in Starship. Musk also apparently described a long-term plan to move away from land-based launch pads and instead use offshore platforms near Boca Chica Beach to fly Starship with less risk to the ground.

The animation above of SpaceX's "Earth to Earth" high-speed concept revealed the concept years ago, but the company has not yet publicly mentioned it in the context of Texas.

"He mentioned that they have to take offshore, but they have to land somewhere, right? You can't do it on land in the middle of Paris, I think he said," recalls Mrs. Pointer. "So you have to have offshore facilities everywhere."

As the conversation loosened a little more, an assistant called an end to the meeting.

"He shook everyone's hand, and at the end of it all took selfies," Mr. Pointer said of Musk (though he noted he didn't do it himself).

& # 39; I don't think we should live next to a rocket ship garden & # 39;

 spacex starship brand 1 mk1 steel march rocket prototype maria pointer backyard boca chica texas GettyImages 1172697974

Maria Pointer looks from her garden in Boca Chica, Texas, while SpaceX workers put together a prototype of a spaceship called the Starship Mark 1 wall to wall September 27, 2019.

Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images


Residents returned home after midnight and began to suck what had happened.

"I do not feel that I am on the dark side of the moon as much as I was before," said Mrs. Pointer. "I feel they are seriously learning where all the fault lines were, where all the holes were, where things just fell through because they move so fast, and we don't move so fast."

Residents say that SpaceX has not only extended the deadlines for bidding, but also sent out a tax assessor to evaluate their homes more and assess properties in coastal areas. If those assessments come back with a fairer valuation, several residents who initially said they would reject the deal told Business Insider that they would consider selling to SpaceX again.

But some residents say they still feel doubtful and painful about the future. For example, Pointers has invested many years of work in its Boca Chica property to make it a customized and comfortable retirement home, not just a winter home or Airbnb (which some residents use their properties).

"I appreciate where he is going. I understand the Martian thing – I have it – and I'm happy that everyone is coming up with it. I think it's an important thing to do; he does a good thing, and that's good, "Pointer said. "But as far as I'm concerned – for me? – he's ruining my life and my situation out here. That being said, I just have to get ahead under the circumstances."

MRS. Pointer later added: "I just don't think this is our life. I don't think we should live next to a rocket shipyard."

SpaceX did not comment further on this story ahead of its history publication.

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