SpaceX might be a newer company, but it’s quickly moving toward significant changes. As a race, we’ve done a lot — but one thing we haven’t accomplished yet is living on other planets. NASA has been working on space exploration since it was founded, but for a long time, it was alone.
Sure, there were other government agencies both in the U.S. and in other countries that had the same goals, but they were alone. That has started to change. It isn’t government entities who are the only ones looking to the stars. The internet really did change everything. Once private companies started launching satellites into space, they realized they could take things even further. Now, some of the more ambitious companies are trying to achieve what the government hasn’t.
Elon Musk has garnered a lot of attention recently, and for good reason. He’s originally from South Africa and has received two degrees, in physics and business, from the University of Pennsylvania. He has become incredibly successful, first through Tesla Motors, and later through some of SpaceX’s projects.
He’s a smart man and an excellent businessperson. His interest in technology has allowed him to do more than stick to one thing. He’s branched out, brought in some of the best minds, and done some amazing stuff. He’s been in the news more than once, especially for things like plans to transport people anywhere on Earth in under an hour. How did he get here? Cars, even electric ones, aren’t quite the same as rockets.
From Cars to Rockets
Musk started making cars, and he managed to make a big impact with just that. He brought out the Tesla, which was the first fully electric car available to everyone. It was still a luxury model, coming in at a baseline price of around $70,000, but even that’s changing. You can now buy a fully electric Tesla for $35,000, half the cost of the original.
If you listen to the people who know and worked with Musk, you find out the main thing that took him from cars to rockets. His plan was never about cars. It was always to make humans an interplanetary species, and building cars was just one step on that path. The second thing that made him so successful was that he simply didn’t consider failure an option. Not only was it not an option, but it’s not even on his radar. Instead, he learned to trust the market.
Capitalism has some downfalls, but one thing it does well is promote competition. The downside of leaving all the important work to the government is that it’s too easy for something, or someone, to fall through the cracks. By bringing more competition to the mix, the risk of missing something is minimized. SpaceX is a big part of that.
One of SpaceX’s projects that has gotten so much attention has been its flight to space. It was the first private company to make a successful trip to space and return. In March, SpaceX sent the first privately owned spacecraft, the Dragon, to space and back again. It worked with NASA to make it to the International Space Station, collect data and bring it back to Earth.
The Dragon craft is just one of multiple crafts SpaceX has been working on. The science behind rockets is pretty standard, and progress is made in incremental steps. Musk has been working on that exact thing, improving each of his spacecraft with small modifications like additional engines and making the crew and cargo requirements similar. This allows for more power and ease of changing between crew and cargo, respectively.
So far, though, it’s only carried cargo. SpaceX is getting closer to flying a team, but it hasn’t quite crossed that threshold yet. Even though the Dragon is designed to move quickly between crew and cargo, it hasn’t been tested for a crew yet. It will have to undergo many more tests, and the company will have to prove it’s capable of launching successfully on a regular basis before anyone rides with them.
One of the things that’s helping SpaceX projects continue is funding and contracts with NASA. One contract has already been partially fulfilled, since SpaceX helped transport cargo to and from the ISS. Dragon’s successful mission accomplished that, but NASA isn’t done yet.
The Dragon run may have been a successful test, but it was still a test. Another contract with NASA tasked SpaceX and one other company to develop spacecraft for crew. Again, the Dragon is a strong contender for that place, but is by no means a winner. These contracts, however, have pumped billions into the company, which has most likely made it profitable.
Working with NASA isn’t the primary goal of SpaceX projects. Musk wants to turn people into an interplanetary race, and that starts on our planet. He wants to make electric cars available to everyone, build an underground hyperloop from NYC to D.C., and he wants people to be able to travel anywhere in the world in under an hour, for the price of an average plane ticket.
Even for a tech company, those are some big goals — but there’s no sense in aiming small when you’re shooting for the stars. SpaceX has had a few issues to contend with, but it hasn’t failed. That might be because Musk doesn’t believe in failure, or it might be that he’s managed to assemble an incredible team. It’s probably both.
If the dreams for tomorrow are big, it’ll be exciting to see what tomorrow’s dreamers come up with.