They can build rockets but can't yet pour concrete to survive the heat and pressure.
That's one of those fun things I've learned. Like can anybody? I didn't realise the problem is mostly an acoustic/shockwave issue rather than just raw heat & power. But I don't build rockets, so can be forgiven. It's perhaps more questionable that SpacX wasn't aware of these problems, especially given the thrust it's needs to generate, and people pointed out it was almost certainly going to need a much better flame pit and damping design. But you learn from experience. I guess the challenge for SpacX is it's built an expensive launch tower & pad at Boca Chica and duplicating that in Florida as well. If it has to go back to the drawing board, it's going to be expensive and add a year or more.
On the other hand, SLS has been in development a lot, lot longer and has only just achieved it's first launch and NASA already has those skills and facilities that SpaceX are still learning.
Yup, but SLS is a more complete system, ie it's just launched Orion for the second time. Starship's still mostly an empty tube that's never reached orbit, so a long way to go before it's functionally equivalent or as capable as SLS. Then again, Orion's crash-test dummies need to make it back in one piece to see if it deserves it's human rating. I also wonder if NASA still does have it's skills given a combination of budget cuts, re-prioritisation and reliance on outside contractors. I saw an interesting documentary questioning whether NASA (or the US in general) has the design and fabrication skills to replicate a Saturn V. Downside to outsourcing engines to Russia (and Ukraine) I guess, and that supply chain having a few.. issues.
I strongly suspect the first Starship launch will, at the most, be to orbit. The SpaceX track record so far doesn't indicate that they will go for a full size mission on a first launch.
Agreed, and realisticaly I wouldn't expect it to. We have no idea if Starship's heat shielding would survive re-entry, if a practical, fully developed Starship could land successfully, how a crew and passenger escape system could work, how it could land, unload and lift off from the Moon, if chopsticks really work and much, much more. And I guess for SpacX, how much of that it can achieve before the money runs out. Musk's habit of overpromising and under delivering may be his downfall.
For a space enthusiast cheering attempts for us to get off this rock, we're living in interesting times with all the activity going on though. Still not convinced catching a falling rocket with a helicopter is the wisest engineering solution..