Elon Musk

Elon Musk has found himself at the heart of a controversy around the efforts to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a Thai cave. Musk built a child-sized submarine for the rescue mission that ultimately went unused, leading to questions around Musk’s tangible contributions to the successful relief effort.

Over the weekend, Musk built a submarine “using the liquid oxygen transfer tube of Falcon rocket as hull” and shipped it to Thailand, only for authorities to describe the device as “not practical for this mission.” The rebuttal led to a number of memes around Musk’s involvement in the mission. Dave Temkin, vice president of networks at Netflix, described the “hatred being spewed” around Musk’s work as “ridiculous.” Musk responded to Temkin by stating that “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.”

Musk was quick to respond to reports that the authorities did not need his creation. A spokesperson for the head of the country’s military junta said Prayut Chan-o-cha was “highly appreciative” of the effort, but head of the rescue’s joint command center, Narongsak Osatanakorn, described it as “not practical for this mission.” Musk claimed on Tuesday that Osatanakorn was “not the subject matter expert,” and shared correspondence between himself and dive rescue co-leader Dick Stanton, who urged Musk to keep working on the capsule details.

Musk has a number of plans for the unused machine. He shared on Twitter that the submarine is “good for rescuing vulnerable patients in dangerous environments, particularly if water, toxic gas or dangerous bacteria/viruses present,” and responded positively to ideas around suing it to explore Jupiter’s moons.

It seems the submarine may serve a long-term purpose after all.