There are people who are treating our planet like it was an infinite source of natural resources. The cornucopia is not as abundant nor nourished as we would like it to be. The goods are eventually going to be depleted – and what are we going to do then?
There are people who are taking this question seriously. Elon Musk is one of them. Well known for his multiple pro-environmental initiatives, Tesla Motors one of them, SolarCity being another, Musk is now bound on colonizing other planets. His reason is simple: it’s either that – or we are doomed.
“The future of humanity is fundamentally going to bifurcate along one of two directions,” he’s predicting in one of his interviews for National Geographic Chanel. “Either we’re going to become a multiplanet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we’re going be stuck on one planet until some eventual extinction event.”
Thus – for Elon Musk – the question is not “Are we going to colonize other planets?” but – in fact – “When are we?”
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation
There are the goals. But what are the means to such an inspiring end?
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – or SpaceX – was founded in 2002. Based in Hawthorne, California – United States – it was first intended to become an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services provider for NASA and the US. What it’s now is a corporation with much more important mission: to allow human colonization of Mars – and as soon as of 2025-2030. An announcement – made this September – that has send numerous shockwaves throughout the international media and made all the most important business-press headlines. Are we colonizing Mars? In 2020’s? How is that possible? Let’s be realistic! Not going to happen!
On the one hand, this is nothing new. Not really. Elon Musk is known for his bold statements. On the other, though, he’s also known to fulfill his promises. In fact, the more impossible his goals seem to be, the higher seems his motivation. Thus – it’s not impossible. It’s not even improbable.
What’s most important here is that – as it would appear – Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation does indeed have the tech needed. It does also have a plan – and a good one. Enough to make it believable. And when it comes to such sci-fi scenarios, being “believable” is – actually – quite an achievement.
The Beginnings. Not So Humble!
The truth is that – considering its beginnings – I am not even sure if we can call SpaceX a startup. It was never “small.” The risk of its failure was never that big. Even though it’s found its niche, it’s not that the niche wasn’t known to be there before – this time, in fact, it was more about the amount of funds that were needed to actually get in. Because, let’s face it, space exploration is not really the cheapest of endeavors, is it?
It is not. Even Elon Musk – though being one of the most successful and well-funded entrepreneurs of his generation – couldn’t afford that himself. The price per rocket – as offered to Musk when he was visiting Moscow in 2001 and 2002 to speak with the Russian manufacturers there – was $8 million dollars. Add to it the fact that the proposed rockets weren’t – in fact – reusable, and the financial scope of such a space enterprise becomes transparent. And it’s but a peak of the iceberg: there are all the additional costs, there’s the equipment, testing, permissions, there is staff and there are trainings… – the costs were humongous.
That’s what made him decide that he is going to build his own rockets.
Though the rockets that Musk was building were intended to cost no more than 5 to 10 percent of what was proposed to him when he was in Moscow, the actual cost of materials needed to build one rocket – 3 percent of the Russian’s price, by 2006 he already had invested $100 of his own money. Still, it would not be possible for SpaceX to operate if it was not for the investors, Angel Investors, and private – and government – contractors that have seen the corporation’s potential.
The contracts were what SpaceX needed, though, as, beginning in 2008, it has grown up substantially, doubling its size – in the number of workers and contractors – in 2010, then tripling it once again in 2013 – to reach the final number of 5,000 as of late 2015. The funding has also increased: the estimated value of the corporation is, as of now, $12,000,000,000+, and still growing.
Which is quite a growth, indeed.
Fly Me To The Moon. Notable Achievements
So far, SpaceX has achieved a lot. The list of its achievements is long and growing.
In 2008, it became the first corporation to reach orbit with its rocket (Falcon 1).
In 2010, it became the first corporation to launch orbit (with the rocket Falcon 9) and recovered a spacecraft (Dragon).
In 2012, it became the first corporation to send a spacecraft (also Dragon) to the International Space Station.
Falcon 9 is also the first multistage rocket to have its first stage return to Earth and land after it has detached in the planet’s orbit: a big step towards the reusability of rockets. (Normally, the multistage rockets are left there to orbit the planet as a debris. Some of them fall down and burn in the atmosphere. According to Musk, the most important factor that will contribute to the colonization of Mars will be making them reusable.)
Let me also wrap up some things we know about Elon Musk himself.
Aged 45, Elon Musk is, among the others,
- co-chairman of OpenAI (a non-profit Artificial Intelligence research association and think tank dedicated to careful promotion and development of what’s called a friendly AI)
- co-founder and chairman of SolarCity (an American provider of solar power and one of the founding members of TASC – The Alliance for Solar Choice – an organization advocating for the decrease of use of the environment-hostile power sources for the rooftop photovoltaic installations)
- co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Motors (a brand designing, manufacturing, and selling electric cars)
- founder of X.com (now merged with PayPal)
- co-founder of Zip2
As of June 2016, Elon Musk has had an estimated net worth of US$12.7 billion, making him the 83rd wealthiest person in the world.
He is a husband and a father.
His current wife is his second one, the first to divorce him for personal reasons.
He certainly has a vision.
Since I have already written about Elon Musk’s plans to colonize Mars before, I am not going to repeat it. What’s most important here is that if there’s a person who can do it, it is him, no one else: so far, he’s done much more to achieve this goal than any one of us, NASA included. That being said, there’s still a long road ahead of him. Is he going to make it to the Red Planet?
Our fingers are crossed!