You may call him mad, a lunatic; you may call his dreams impossible, but you have to admit that Elon Reeve Musk’s passion has fired up the world’s imagination and rekindled its interest in space. Ayrton Senna isn’t the motorsport God he is just because he won races, that happened anyway; it’s his passion for the sport that made him a hero. So, more than the boldness of the plans, it’s Musk’s passion that gets through to us.
Born to a Canadian mother and South African father in 1971, Musk liked to tinker from a young age. He developed an interest in computers at the young age of 10, taught himself to code and by 12, sold his first computer program (a game called Blastar). By 1999, Musk was a millionaire, having sold his company to Compaq for a whopping $340 million. The same year, Musk founded X.com, a financial services and payments company, which later became PayPal.
Elon Musk established Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX in 2002 with a $100 million investment, money he earned after co-founding PayPal and selling the online payment company to eBay. He wanted to put an unpiloted lander on Mars to grow plants in the planet’s rust-coloured soil.
Founded in a workshop in suburban Los Angeles, SpaceX’s objectives from the beginning were to reduce the cost and complexity of spaceflight, and extend humanity’s reach into the solar system and become a multi-planet species.
Over the years, the company has had many high-profile successes—including landing the first suborbital reusable rocket stages on land and at sea—and its share of failures as well, with rockets exploding on the launch pad or en route to orbit.
Remarkable Aspects of SpaceX
There are many remarkable aspects to SpaceX: for instance, the way it has challenged accepted rocket manufacture by making rockets for a fraction of the cost, the way it has become the first private entity—rather than a country—to successfully launch spacecraft into orbit and then return; the way it went from an idea in Musk’s head to a company that resupplies the International Space Station and that hopes to soon ferry astronauts back and forth. But the most remarkable fact about SpaceX is that—right from the start, before the first rocket had lifted an inch off the ground—it was explicitly intended as the means to another, far more grandiose and idealistic end: colonizing Mars.
A tour around the SpaceX factory will almost seem like a sci-fi movie trailer except that all those technologies are being actually prepared for commercial space exploration (in fact the Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) is a SpaceX idea that aims to take a hundred people to Mars ). Also, what is different about Musk’s companies is that the engineers (white-collar jobs) and the technicians (blue collar jobs) work with one another without any cabin-culture so that they could get first-hand information from one another.
SpaceX: A Resounding Success
By 2008, SpaceX was the first privately funded company to take a rocket to orbit. By 2012, it became the first such company to dock a spacecraft with the ISS and by 2013, it had put a satellite into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). SpaceX is also among the only space-faring agencies in the world to have used and developed a reusable launch vehicle.
But how did Elon Musk do it? How did he establish SpaceX as a company that’s mentioned in the same breath as Nasa, a company that’s easily competing with the ESA (European Space Agency) for capability and cost? How does this company far outstrips India’s own space program in terms of capability? The only reasons we can think of are passion and focus. Musk has been determined to make commercial spaceflight a reality and in a mere 14 years, he’s done just that. Currently, SpaceX’s launch costs work out to about $2,500 per pound to orbit (or about $5,600 per kg).
The Rocket Man’s Vision of Colonizing Mars
Entrepreneur Elon Musk has set himself an ambitious timeline for the colonization of Mars. The South Africa-born magnate estimates that his private space company, SpaceX, will launch its first manned mission in 2024 – one decade sooner than Nasa’s ambitions. This mission would be a robotic test flight with a modified Dragon capsule and would go on floors as soon as May 2018. SpaceX’s goal is to send at least one spacecraft to Mars during every interplanetary launch opportunity, which comes every 26 months or so.
Ultimately, Musk believes this kind of endeavour will bring Mars out of the realm of science fiction and transform it from a world fraught with difficulty and danger to one that humans might actually enjoy living on.
Elon Musk is indeed the Tesla, Edison and Newton (all in one) of this generation. SpaceX is more than a mere space program. It’s the passion project of one man, and his passion and ambition are infectious. Isn’t every successful launch that little bit more special because you know that it’s a step closer to humanity’s Mars ambitions?
You could also read more about this real-life ironman here.