Humans built the first skyscrapers in history nearly a century ago at an incredible rate. It was the age before skyscrapers.
The US population grew by two-thirds in the 50 years before 1920. The Industrial Revolution was simmering, boiling to a boil as America entered World War I. It produced the machinery and materials needed to fight in Europe. The dramatic increase in US office space demand after the war was due to significant population growth and improvements in industrial productivity. From 1870 to 1920, this number grew tenfold.
Because of this, skyscraper construction boomed in the Roaring Twenties, thanks to high demand and low financing. In New York City, the first skyscraper was the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building (71-story tall) The Chrysler Building was next, at 77 floors, followed by the Empire State Building, at 102 feet.
It was a time of promise and prosperity in America. Engineers designed these structures with reinforced concrete and bold architectures while seated at drafting tables. Everyday laborers then built these structures higher and higher up into the sky, while eating lunch in the clouds.
We may now be able to do it again.
SpaceX engineers and technicians stacked the Starship and Super Heavy booster on Friday for the first time. The total stack was approximately 120m high, which is about the same height as a 30-story building. What was the only difference? The only difference? This skyscraper was designed to fly.
Starship is the tallest ever built rocket. It will launch later this year or in 2022 and be the most powerful rocket to ever fly. The launch pad may see the initial Starship explode. Because the first stage uses 29 rocket engines, clustering them together may make it difficult to stop one engine from failing. This would be okay, since SpaceX is able to build more vehicles as Starship iterates closer towards a final product.
A large crane lifted Starship from the Super Heavy rocket's top after Friday's "fit check". There is still much work to be done before the vehicle can launch. Starship's stainless-steel exterior will need more heat shield tiles in the near future. These tiles are necessary to control heating during atmospheric reentry.
Technical work is also required by the company to develop the ground systems necessary to fuel the vehicle. There are also numerous tests that the Super Heavy booster will pass, including static and high-pressure testing.
The Federal Aviation Administration will need to approve SpaceX's request for an environmental assessment. This is necessary in order to launch such a massive rocket from these South Texas wetlands. The public will have a 30-day window to comment on the draft of the assessment after it is published. The FAA will then decide if SpaceX's proposed mitigations are sufficient or need to be improved.
Elon Musk, SpaceX founder, sent a clear message Friday to the FAA as well as other federal regulators. His message was emphasized by one photo that is particularly striking. It featured workers standing underneath Starship as the rocket was lifted onto its first stage. Musk was able to release a black-and white version of the rocket, harkening back at the age skyscrapers.
Modern engineers and welders are currently building 21st century skyscrapers. The photo is screaming. These rockets will not be found in PowerPoints and wooden mockups. These rockets are breathing, living machines that are almost ready to breath fire. Advertisement
Musk seemed to be telling the FAA that federal regulators need to do their part in ensuring the future is on track. The 21st century is a promising time, just as the 20th-century skyscrapers were a sign of a new era that launched America into a prosperous future in finance, communication and marketing.
Soon, the skyscraper age will be replaced by the space age.
Musk wanted regulators understand that holding Starship back means preventing this progress. Our vision does not stop at the clouds. It extends far beyond them. Humans have been exploring the Solar System for the past five decades. It is now time to expand commerce and settle people on new worlds. While some people may be opposed to this vision, Musk believes that government will ultimately support industry and progress.
Musk's clear message was "We are ready" on Friday without actually saying much. Photos spoke louder than words.