The National Today

Ground control to Elon Musk: NASA's not a fan of cannabis

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: transportation technology entrepreneur Elon Musk gets a mixture of both bad and good news; researchers study new treatments for severe depression as alternatives to shock therapy.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, speaks at the National League of Cities 2018 City Summit in Los Angeles on Nov. 8. Sources within NASA say they've ordered a workplace safety review of SpaceX because of the billionaire inventor's sometimes erratic behaviour. (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Transportation technology entrepreneur Elon Musk got some bad news this week, but he's been tasting some success as well.
  • Researchers are developing some new treatments for severe depression.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.


Elon Musk's lows and highs

NASA doesn't like potheads.

That, apparently, is the not-so-hidden message being sent to Silicon Valley bad boy Elon Musk via a newly announced safety review of his private rocket company SpaceX.

The probe, first reported yesterday in the Washington Post, will also look at Boeing — the other firm that's been hired to eventually ferry U.S. astronauts to and from space — examining "anything and everything" that could potentially affect safety.

But sources within the space agency have told the paper that the review has been ordered because of the billionaire inventor's sometimes erratic behaviour, and particularly Musk's recent appearance on a podcast where he was filmed hauling on a large blunt.

Elon Musk smokes a joint during a Joe Rogan podcast livestreamed on the internet on Sept. 6. (Joe Rogan/YouTube)

NASA won't officially confirm that, but its statement on the reasons for the review seems to make it clear enough, referencing requirements for workplace safety, "including the adherence to a drug-free environment."

Oddly, the safety review won't actually examine SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket system, which has launched successfully 18 times so far this year.

And there is no suggestion of any delay for the crewless SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station in January, nor the first test with astronauts aboard that's expected sometime next spring.

However, the review will involve hundreds of interviews with SpaceX employees, and will be disruptive in terms of time and production.

The first SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket takes off from Cape Kennedy in Florida on Feb. 6. carrying Musk's cherry red Roadster from Tesla, his electric car company. (Cristobal Herrera/EPA-EFE)

It marks yet another controversy for Musk.

Two months ago, the entrepreneur was forced to step down as chair of Tesla, his electric car company, and pay a total of $40 million US in fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission as part of a settlement over a stock manipulation investigation stemming from a tweet.

And the mercurial behaviour that has caused some colleagues and investors to express concerns about his health and mental well-being is still on display.

Just this week, Musk has taken to Twitter to rename his planned Mars passenger spacecraft from BFR, the Big Falcon — or F**king — Rocket (depending on which source you believe), to the weirdly bland Starship.

Musk talks to his workforce at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., on Sept. 17 as he announces the world’s first private passenger scheduled to fly around the Moon aboard SpaceX’s BFR launch vehicle, (Gene Blevins/Reuters)

He revealed a whole new set of priorities for Tesla yesterday, suggesting that a still-conceptual pickup truck will now take priority over a previously announced semi-truck and a new version of the roadster.

The inventor is also locked in a fight with "Big Tequila" — Mexico's Tequila Regulatory Council, to be precise — over his plans to market a Teslaquila brand of the agave-based spirit that may not meet the country's origin and quality requirements.

Yet Musk is tasting success as well.

This week, another Musk venture called the Boring Company completed a 3.2-kilometre test tunnel for the futuristic hyperloop transportation system it intends to build beneath Los Angeles.

More importantly, the Model 3 production problems that have dogged Tesla for the better part of a year seem to be easing. The company is currently making around 4,500 of its new mid-range electric cars a week, not far off the long-sought target of 5,000.

There are plans to crank up the line to 7,000 cars per week by end of this month. Musk is even guaranteeing delivery by the end of the year for all U.S. orders made by Nov. 30.

Tesla's showroom at the Sherway Gardens mall in Toronto. The company is currently producing around 4,500 of its new mid-range electric cars a week, nearing its target of 5,000. (Don Pittis/CBC)

The hedge funds that have been shorting Tesla stock, expecting the Model 3 to fail and the stock value to fall below $100 US, appear to be losing their bets. One major short-seller threw in the towel last month, and another is teetering on the edge. (As of early this afternoon, Tesla stock was trading at around $341 US a share, up almost $100 from early October.)

And Musk has received an important vote of confidence from another science celebrity. In an interview with CNBC, Neil deGrasse Tyson predicted that Musk will be the tech entrepreneur who will end up having the biggest effect on the world.

"Elon Musk is trying to invent a future," said the famed astrophysicist and television host.

"He will transform civilization as we know it."

And unlike NASA, deGrasse said he doesn't care if Musk occasionally gets "high" in the process.


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New treatments for severe depression

We've come a long way in treating mood disorders like depression, reporter Kas Roussy writes.

ECT. Electroconvulsive therapy. Better known as shock treatment.

Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap.

Who can forget the controversial scene in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, where Jack Nicholson gets a current of electricity through his head?

Yet despite the common side effect of memory loss, shock treatment is still considered the go-to treatment for severe depression when medication or therapy hasn't worked.

Sky Zazlov is prepped to receive MRI focused ultrasound therapy. She has suffered from treatment-resistant depression since 2011. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, and it's the leading cause of disability worldwide. In Canada, almost a million people live with treatment-resistant depression.

So researchers have been looking at other non-invasive approaches to treat this illness.

They've come up with some new technology so precise it can pinpoint the exact location in the brain where the source of a person's depression lurks.

It's called MRI-guided focused ultrasound. Doctors use ultrasound beams to heat and disrupt the area of the brain affected by depression. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre is currently in phase one of a clinical trial involving up to 10 patients who will undergo the procedure.

Kas Roussy is shown one of the promising therapies being studied in Canada for treatment-resistant depression. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Another treatment dispenses with electricity — instead, it uses magnets to stimulate the brain to induce a seizure. It's called magnetic seizure therapy, and unlike ECT, treatments with MST come with minimal memory loss.

"The amount of information about the brain is amplifying year to year," says Dr. Anthony Levitt, the chief of the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

"90 per cent of what we've learned about the brain, we've learned in the last 10 to 15 years."

Some of what researchers have learned recently is the subject of tonight's story on The National.

- Kas Roussy

  • WATCH:  Kas Roussy's story about different therapies now being used on patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression, tonight onThe National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

A lunchtime blast from the past.


Quote of the moment

"We see a risk of the country sleepwalking into instability."

- Valdis Dombrovskis, vice-president of the European Commission, after Brussels again rejected Italy's budget over debt and deficit concerns.

European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis addresses a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • Hunger, disease have killed 85,000 young children in Yemen war, says aid group (CBC)
  • Interpol presidency vote: Korea beats Russia in surprise win (BBC)
  • Largest oil spill in Newfoundland history 'impossible' to clean-up (CTV)
  • Umbilical cord jewelry is the latest parental trend (USA Today)
  • B.C. College of Physicians wants 'Dr. Lipjob' sent to jail (CBC)
  • More Cameroon students kidnapped in restive Anglophone region (Africanews)
  • U.S. tourist killed by arrow-shooting island tribesmen (Al Jazeera)
  • A pardoned turkey spent more time with the media this month than Sarah Sanders did (Quartz)

Today in history

Nov. 21, 1963: Gordon Lightfoot and Alex Trebek on CBC's Music Hop

Canada's folk music icon in a scratchy, black-and-white encounter with the country's greatest living game show host (R.I.P. Pierre Lalonde). The earnest conversation about the "hit parade" and "Gordie's" upcoming recording session seems destined to someday become a Heritage Moment.

A young Gordon Lightfoot speaks to Music Hop host Alex Trebek about his writing and recording plans. 0:46

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.