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tv   Eric Berger Liftoff  CSPAN  March 28, 2021 6:45pm-7:31pm EDT

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now. first, erica berger as a career of entrepreneur elon musk in the history of his aerospace company, spacex. the political military affairs reporter must see morgan looks at american military action in afghanistan. also the saving joby work of the "washington post" chemical weapons in syria during its civil war. fox news anchor martha mccallum has a history of world war ii battle of your gmail. and mickey kyndell argues the modern feminist movement as excluding some women, especially women of color. that all starts now. you can find more schedule information or consult your program guide. >> welcome everyone to my name is valley of the owner of the blue willow bookshop in houston, texas. i know we have people joining us from all over the country and possibly beyond in the world. i'm thrilled tonight to be here to introduce an icon of
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our staff. they're going to be joining us tonight. i would like to introduce our guest author that cover spacex, nasa, everything beyond. eric is a former reported for the houston chronicle. as we know we are so thrilled he is here tonight in conversation with andrea reporter for the houston chronicle. and being in space city here we have a lot to talk about when it comes to space. i am going to turn this over too eric and andrea and have a wonderful conversation. i will come back on and help facilitate the question and answer. , welcome eric, welcome andrea
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thank you for coming tonight. >> thank you valerie. >> thanks, eric brick siding about your book. i love how you started it off. right now honestly have so much happening in south texas with the starship, but you know it feels a little bit like the maybe cowboy days of the falcon one. so i am curious to why decide to start the book that way what similar gc between now and was happening then? >> i kind of wanted to help readers understand why we should care about this dinky little rocket that spacex put so much effort into launching 15 years ago. it's kind of ancient history sort of the reality is that they had not been successful from 2008 successfully, they never would have gotten two orbits. they never would have continued the company would
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not exist today. here's another thing to understand is the way spacex is today all that dna was established back in this really tempestuous. from 2002 and 2008 when they started the company. when elon musk was hiring the people who he thought would help him succeed to build a rocket from scratch. and so the fact they are bucca chica today building this crazy starship that when they make take people to mars is all down to what happened than. it's interesting to choose another parallel they launch the falcon one from the middle of no or basically in the central pacific ocean. so if you fly from l.a. to hawaii and then fly the same distance again, you find yourself. i'm not saying south texas in the middle of nowhere, but they do have a lot of freedom
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to operate in south texas. where there's not that much oversight of the range they can kind of do what they need to do and move at the speed elon musk likes to move. >> they were such a small company. your book talks about how there's a handful people working all these hours. i know they still work very hard. there are bigger companies how can they do these type of internet designs they test they fail they fixed, the test they fail they fix, how did they keep doing that? >> they have their core business they have the falcon nine rocket there launching humans on the third crew mission is coming up this spring. hinted that rocket really cannot afford to fail. they've gone they flown about 70 consecutive times. they want to have success with
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that per the one to have success with the dragon program. starship there not putting that any times in the not even putting cargo they're trying to get to orbits. the try to figure out the engines, they want to control them. the last couple of attempts event challenges relating the engines right before landing. they want to figure all that out. and so they have felt this factory in south texas to churn out vehicle after vehicle at a relatively low cost and fly them. they will learn from each mistake and can move forward. spank me talk to people to feel like the early days they were exploring. when you read the book of feels like everyone is just so excited to be hands on building things. not you had one example where this guy his whole career was designing -- is not doing that the drain hands on design. is it filled they talk to the same way? >> it is really interesting.
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the weight elon musk started the company as he hired a couple senior vice president of experience in the field. most of the engineers went out and hired kids in their 20s. they're still in graduate school of the best the best of the aerospace engineer who are hungry did not have family to go home too. basically willing to kill themselves in terms of working hard for their company. if you go down and visit a good chica it's the same kind of energy. there are more people there hundreds instead of dozens of engineers. facilities are much bigger the rocket is much bigger. it's still just people in their 20s mostly they are engineers. they are running around, scurrying around, they don't where 50 hats like the people in the falcon one days did. they are moving at no less of his speed. that is again down to the stride that yacht long musk
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has two pushes teams forward as fast as they can go. >> so i love the level of detail in your book. as you're flipping through, i can just picture elon musk chuckling he's in charge of a tropical island i just love that detail. i think they were to out drink come out launch they were working on the island so long. how many hours of interviews that it taken as you have it favorite one? >> is hard to pick a favorite one. i spent a long time probably about 20 hours in elon in different settings. and then lots of time with the other employees kind of go forward from there. because someone would tell me a story i would crosscheck it was someone else and said what is you remember about this?
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were you there? there's lots of fun anecdotes thereto that i will pull out one is this incident from 2002 trying to find someone to build tanks they need to have these chilled propellants. they said in a holiday inn express when i didn't some morning they got up they went down to the breakfast bar. i guess as a first-time elon had encountered pop tarts. company in the breakfast room he liked to look at it, stare at it was fascinated by it. then proceeded to toasted fruit instead of putting them in vertically so they pop up he put them in horizontally and he had to stick his hands in to pull them out. he burned himself and said
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some not nice words at the holiday inn express in wisconsin back in 2002. another story that i really like was glenn shotwell she's a present of the company matches hired on as vice president of sales in 2002. she was instrumental in the company's success on a number of levels. but in flight for she was in scotland and a space conference. and she was -- it was after midnight their shoe sitting in the bathroom watching it on a laptop. she had gone there to actually explain to the customers and a third failure why the rocket had failed. this was likely super uplifting moment as she is watching this all sort of alone screaming in the bathroom she told me she writes scotland down and puts it in her shoes so she
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standing over scotland, i thought that was a nice touch. >> that is a nice touch. a big part of the book is that a bunch of 20 -year-olds were working really hard. this is a reason why it was so successful and why some people laughed and curious when you're talking to elon musk, how did he describe this? all the other employees described how he made them want to work so hard. and how all of that to the rocket together when you talk to elin my city see himself as rising that hard? >> he for sure understands what he does. he has an expectation that people who come to work for him are going to work hard. because they believe in whatever he is doing. the rare gift that he gives
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them is the ability to really make a difference. if you go to spacex who really does build and rocket you can land a rocket on a vote purdue can build a spaceship is going to go to mars. it is not like you're going there and waiting for government contract to come through. can congress change? ikea has a track record getting things things done. as where the engineers left look, i gave 15 years the best years of my life. it was a trade was a trade i was willing to make for the opportunity. and so he realizes that. but he also expects it. i don't want to say he uses
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people up, but he expects people to give their all. >> i feel like he has the same attitude towards regulators. early on in the book your tongue but he went head-to-head with now someone something wasn't there. he head-to-head with a couple regulatory authorities. how did that fearlessness i guess in the beginning help? can you talk about that? >> even before they launch their first rocket, spacex had sued the biggest competitors in the u.s. airspace industry. they protested nasa, the government they sued the department of defense. so this is someone who is breaking some eggs on the way to space. and that is just sort of how he acts. if he feels that he has been wronged, he will fight back. it does not always suit him. it does not always help him i
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mean he comes across as brash and unreliable and he can anger potential customers. it makes for some people in the government some people uncomfortable to work with. but, in the end he typically does deliver. it really was his protest of nasa contract in 2004 that ultimately would save the company. this was a contract nasa had awarded to a company called kistler to begin to develop the transportation system to bring cargo to the international space station. elon had thought that was not fair, he talked to gwen and she said you shouldn't protest our most important customer, nasa or potentially most important customer he said no this isn't right with got to do it. he ended up being right. because that protest basically forced nasa to withdraw the award have an open competition
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that way the commercial cargo, the dragon spacecraft eventually led to a commercial crew. was one of those contracts they got the end of 2008 that saved the company from bankruptcy from ruin. you take the good in the bed with elon he is a fighter and he will fight when we think she's on the right when he has a right on his side he will fight you. >> i know when i was doing the book i was like okay, i even knew how he did stuff before is like this is the one, this is the one he kept having such terrible up and forget the term was with the fuel and then the rocket just crumbling premier hearing these stories here just thinking of my god they caught every rough card that they could have. >> i think they probably felt that way. it is interesting. i mean the book is ultimately
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framed around the fort launches of the falcon, the three failures in the fourth one was a success. i think each of the failures are really interesting. because they tell you something about the company, the people who work there and elon his self who made two mistakes after the first launch he unfairly blamed a technician. when in fact they left the vehicle exposed to this tropical environment for too long. in retrospect is a pretty obvious mistake. as a rookie mistake you might say brittany second vehicle they were aware of the potential problem with the second stage. but to fix it would have required a lot of time with had to unmask the vehicle. the third was just heartbreaking. because they had tested the while this new while. newark merlin while and had
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not seen the bit of thrust that came right on at the burn. that's what got them. and yes, there was lots of drama. before i started working on the project i thought i wonder if there is a full book tv told about the falcon one. when i got into it was fascinating. the people involved in sort of what they went through to get that rocket to orbit was really a heckuva story. : : : good for people who live really close because they were living sometimes on this tiny island the size of a
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rock and they would cook steaks and whatever. they had a recipe for a turkish goulash and one of the things i loved as i found out later on, when he left the company in 2015 on the last day the cafeteria of spacex made that recipe. maybe we could put the recipe in the book. he said yeah, sure. so you can make it at home. >> when you were going through the process of interviewing and writing this book, what was that like? this is your first book, right? so what was it like -- you've been this forever but for a whole book, what was that whole process like? >> it was a lot of fun because all i can say that i was in the last when they launched the final rocket. people in houston will remember september of 2008 the falcon
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nine and four hurricane ike what i remember about the storm is we saw it coming more than two weeks before the mainland fall and so there were days and days ending the forecasting and tracking the storm every day, all day. it made landfall in mid-september. september of 2008 is a complete blur. writing the book was a lot of fun because i knew from spacex until 2010 to the present day but i knew almost nothing about 2002 to 2008. for me it was an exploration to go back and find that out just like a reader what is so things that were interesting to me
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would be interesting to other people. and then a lot of people i was able to talk to people that never talked like this before and get to their stories, so there's just a lot of details and stuff that have never been told before. the only thing that has been reported -- >> the early years in particular, why do you think that was? >> they are incredibly proud of their achievement because it was against all odds to do it. that amount of money with the technology and then the sort of uprooted from you thought you were to launch from california to the central pacific and dealing with all of the logistical challenges of that.
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so, first of all i think they felt that it was they were proud of it and felt they were trying to tell the story. then elon musk, when i approached him in early 2019 basically said i think it is time to tell the story and he was like basically he said a green light to people that it was okay to talk now. >> i have to ask from adp style did you just speed right into it? >> when i came in 2015, they were huge proponents of the oxford chronicle. i after having not used it for 50 years i had that beaten into my head so i was okay with that. you know what's weird is when i got the book and went to an extensive copy, all the numbers,
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like 50 was spelled instead of 50 and i thought this isn't how it's done. but i learned that. >> is there anything else you want to tell the readers were the people buying the book about everything that went into it or everything that you hope they get out of it? >> i would just say it's a hell of a story. it's like everything was on the line for elon musk and spacex. they really had a profound impact on the industry. if that launch hadn't taken place, it was really touch and go. it was an eight week period between the third and fourth flight where it was a crisis every day and they just really pulled together to make something special happen. and it was super fun to tell the
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story. >> these are great, great stories. we have some questions and i'm just going to ask you, eric, one of the ones i think is hilarious is because you had some behind the scenes access, what is the funniest thing you have seen on someone's desk? >> a chief propulsion engineer in one of his cubicles at spacex -- around 2011, elon musk started talking about building a heavy rocket that was taking three falcon nines and putting them together so you had 27 engines. there was a note on his desk sometime in 2012 or 2013, and it had taken one of the early schematic drawings of that and a sort of had written on their
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retired before this happens. it's an engineering challenge, but he's retired, so i thought that was funny. >> another question from david [inaudible] >> boy, you know i put in a lot of stuff that i thought everything i wanted to have about the falcon was in there. i did cut some information about the falcon nine, the first couple launches of that because i really just wanted the book to be about the falcon one so in the last chapter i kind of glossed over it, but the director for the falcon one and nine told me a funny story that resonated and kind of tells how elon musk is always kind of looking, his eyes are never on the present. he's always looking at the future. there is an anecdote during the
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first launch he gets very aggressive with the conductor and pressing him. it's about 20 minutes before liftoff, asking about ordering aluminum for the falcon five, the bigger rocket that ultimately never got built but it's like he never launched a rocket before and this was crunch time. here he was and so on the night before the first launch, they had gone out to the launchpad because there was an issue with the storm it had been damaged and needed to be fixed. so they were driving back and he said tim was at the hotel until about four in the morning. and elon musk, his mind was just on the future. he wanted to talk about landing the falcon nine and talk about you know, reusing them and for them at the time it was huge,
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totally revolutionary and he was looking far beyond the next day to five or ten years. it was an interesting insight into his psyche. >> we have a question [inaudible] your parents are on this call because they said they were very proud of you. >> thanks, mom and dad. [laughter] i would say when i was a kid and this would have been 1970, 79 so i was young, five or six. i don't know if it was a project in class but road to nasa, i was in michigan at the time and was interested in space and they send me back this envelope with
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pictures taken by the voyagers and they were beautiful eight by ten photographs with some information about each of the planets and that just was so cool and eye-opening. it speaks to the power of nasa to draw in people. it worked for me and i had a long interest in astronomy ever since. >> how does spacex differ from other private companies, mentioned blue origin and a lot of people want to know your answer to that. >> so, those companies it is vastly different and it is because it is drawn from he sets
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the tone with this demanding workplace and the phrase in the book is he wants to make the impossible possible. he asks the great things but then he gives them the freedom to go out and do that. and he moves really fast and that is in direct contrast to a lot of the companies including blue origin. they hired a ceo named bob smith from honeywell aerospace and he was hired to kind of come in as the company moved from this shop to an operational company flying missions in space and contracts with the department of defense. smith made blue origin more like a traditional aerospace company. much more closer to boeing or sierra nevada or lockheed martin or spacex. as it is interesting there's a parallel in history in 2006,
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elon musk hired he is first ceo, a guy named jim from the sea launch that was a company partly owned by boeing, so a traditional launch company. he was very much a traditional ceo coming in when you go from a startup to a bigger company. as i say, they clashed and he was going pretty quickly. >> divided into space travel, why is that?
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>> the one thing about spaceflight is it can be a very unifying experience. it was the soviets in the united states and we were trying to show the supremacy of the various forms of government. but since the 1990s or 1980s we worked with the soviets and russians in space and so it has been a unifying adventure. the last decade as our relationship has grown worse, nasa has gone right along trucking with the international space station working with russia very closely. obviously if they got into space on russian vehicles. i would agree space can be a competition but it's also wavering us together and there is some hope that if we do ultimately end up doing a human
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mission to mars that it would be a global endeavor. traditional partners but also russia and potentially even china. and that would be a pretty nice counterpoint to the divisions here on earth that we could all come together to do something greater. >> that brings me to the last question are you likely to return to the moon on nasa or spacex? >> great question. spacex is going to play a role in that architecture getting humans back to the moon made until late 2020s. my guess ultimately is that they would launch on the spacex rocket. nasa has been building this vehicle called the space launch system which back when i was carrying this seven or eight years ago it was in competition
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with the falcon heavy like which one would launch first and it launched in 2018 and we are still waiting for the last rocket. now the competition is between the sls and its much larger an open question whether the starship will reach orbit before the sls and i think that it has a pretty good chance of. it is bigger, much cheaper, reusable. if the starship is successful, i could see that becoming the baseline for landing on the moon. that is all to be determined. the biden administration is looking at this. there isn't even a new administrator in place, so we will see. >> a question from croatia. asking who among us has a final
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say in the approval? >> if they want a settlement of sending people to mars, who gives permission for that and the fact of the matter is it would be the u.s. government so they would probably license to launch and they wouldn't have much to say. the transfer of u.s. secrets and technology to other countries including space, that wouldn't play a role. the fact of the matter is licensing a human launch to mars is going to be a tricky end of are not for political reasons but that could be a factor. it would be more along the lines
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of is their life on mars that we don't know about, small microbes, not talking about martians but life or was their therepast life and would sending humans there sort of interfere with whatever ecosystem there is. it's called planetary protection. he really doesn't care. he doesn't think humans on the surface are going to disturb it and even if they did it's like microbes and humans need to be settling out going out in the cosmos and we are starting in mars what is the problem, but there are people in nasa and scientists and environmentalists that would raise concerns about that so i think ultimately if it does go to mars they would go hand-in-hand and that would help address some of those issues like the planetary protection.
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>> we have a question from somebody that i believe you know. how do you think they would respond to a disaster where there is loss of life for the astronaut and how would the faa play out? >> it would be an issue with what the u.s. congress which would be deep in spacex if that happened. that would be a terrible tragedy. there are no guarantees with human spaceflight whatsoever. there are some pretty good safety precautions with the falcon nine rocket that has an excellent record in terms of getting orbit the newest version has never failed after they say about 70 attempts and if it does
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fail if something went wrong there was no way for the crew to safely get back to earth. there is a launch escape system such that if something goes wrong it's very powerful that can push it away so theoretically, the loss of the crew probability is about one and 240 missions, so it's definitely not zero, but the space shuttle loss was about 235, so theoretically at least it is lower than the space shuttle but that would be a serious issue and would raise all sorts of questions about whether the promises of commercial space are coming through. so that would be one of the reasons.
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>> what lessons if any should the larger space industry take from spacex. >> i had an interesting conversation last december about this. we were talking about the fact that what they were doing in south texas is remarkable in terms of how fast they are moving. it is unprecedented to be building a rocket ship every two weeks which is what they are doing in this test program and i said we think that the rest of the industry she said look, we are not trying to show anybody up, but we think the space community deserves better.
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you shouldn't wait ten or 15 for a rocket to show up so it is a better and a different way. i think that they are leading by example and they have had an incredible forcing function over the last decade. not only in the u.s., but rocket groups in europe, china, japan, everyone sort of scrambling to catch up with cost. >> can you repeat the first part of the question. >> getting back to it what can elon musk and spacex teach the industry and this question seemed to be with the larger.
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>> i think that it's been key. it brought down the cost and as we talk more and more about the debris it's something that's been focused on in a lot of different fields, so i think that it's more an aspect that they push for the agenda being considered broadly. also, there've been at the start of this year multiple announcements that don't involve nasa but all of them are on a spacex rocket or starship and i think that it's also not affordable or, unless you get one of those tickets, but they are pushing the boundary. we haven't seen that since a long time ago.
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but i think maybe eight missions. i think it is driving the agenda forward. but it's going to be a while to bring down the cost. but it's definitely the feasibility at a broad level. >> that raises a great point of that for a lot of these activities, doing interesting things with the private space stations, none of that could happen until you had a lower cost for the reliable way to get people up there. $50 million a seat or whatever they are charging is not cheap but what happens with the space shuttle opportunity it wasn't there and with the tourists you get one up at a time and you can get for people autonomously and it can stay up there for three or four months if you go
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somewhere to a space station. this is opening up opportunities that did not exist and i have frankly been surprised by already the number of commercial tourism missions that have been announced and there are more on the way. and again it's all down to having these low-cost systems in place. i think i will go back up to -- do you think we would have had these other companies because the spacex launch system.
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>> one of the beneficial things that they've done for the industry is they have shown other investors that there's money to be made in space and so it makes it a lot easier if you can sort of say we are the next spacex because of xyz. we have a similar growth plan, they revolutionized access and so if you look about 2010 after the first success, the amount of funding going into the private equity for space companies has gone up a lot. they've shown you can be successful with a commercial vehicle and so rocket lab followed and in the dozens of other companies they are trying to do the same, many of which will fail but others will
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succeed on the backs of spacex. >> i appreciate everyone joining us tonight. andrea, eric, kathy is in the background, our good coordinator. [inaudible] it's just amazing what happened and you've brought it to life for us. i'm hoping everybody will appreciate this some of these were happening and we didn't pay us close attention but now you are bringing it up and telling us the history of it and helping us kind of form the basis for bw to go forward in the meeting. we appreciate all of the reporting that you do reporting on the space industry.
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eric will be back for the rest of the book and when he does speak to it's been a thrill to meet both of you and talk with both of you. as i said at the beginning we can't live without it and i would just -- i'm thrilled both of you are here tonight and i thank you for taking the time to talk with all of the people that joined and to answer all the questions. hopefully you will be able to contact them on social media and ask your questions. andrea, thank you. we appreciate it from blue willow bookshops in houston, texas.
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thank you for joining us. i am david, senior policy analyst at


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