One of his rockets had just blown up, the fleet was grounded, and his launchpad was in ashes. But on that day two years ago, Elon Musk was undeterred. As critics pounced, Musk pressed ahead during a space conference to lay out his grand vision to colonize Mars in a speech he titled, "Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species."
Monday night, Musk plans to write the next chapter in his quest to open up space to the masses by announcing the first paying tourist who his company, SpaceX, would fly on a trip around the moon.
And once again, Musk does so in the face of nagging questions and tumult-this time generated largely by his own erratic behavior.
In the past few months, Musk lashed out at analysts during an earning call for Tesla, his electric car company, for asking "boring, bonehead questions." He accused, without proof, one of the cave divers who participated in the rescue of a Thai youth soccer team of being a pedophile. Then he vowed to take Tesla private, saying that the "funding was secured," only to reverse himself shortly afterward. And earlier this month he took a hit of marijuana on a live broadcast.
Now the Elon Musk show returns to the sprawling SpaceX headquarters outside Los Angeles, where the company will-whether intentionally or not-provide a prime-time diversion to the troubles surrounding its celebrity chief executive by providing details about its long-anticipated moon shot.
Last week, SpaceX said on Twitter that it "has signed the world's first private passenger to fly around the moon aboard our [Big Falcon Rocket]-an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space." And late Sunday, Musk further fueled the anticipation by tweeting out artist renderings of the massive launch vehicle that SpaceX is developing to fly to deep space, with a simple message: "#OccupyMars."
But for now, the company still has yet to fly a single human to space. The BFR, as it's known, is in development, possibly years from flying. SpaceX, which is under contract by NASA to fly its astronauts to the International Space Station, recently announced it had to delay those first flight to April of next year.
Its plan to fly tourists around the moon has also been delayed: If all had gone according to schedule, SpaceX would now be gearing up for its first lunar flight, fulfilling its pledge early last year to launch a pair of tourists "faster and farther into the Solar System than any before them."
Setbacks and delays, however, don't deter Musk, or his relentless company, which has grown to 7,0000 employees. SpaceX has pulled off feats no one thought was possible, from the first successful launch to orbit a decade ago to earlier this year, when the maiden flight of its Falcon Heavy rocket put a Tesla Roadster on a trip toward Mars.
While Tesla has been plagued by production problems, SpaceX, which is also led by president and chief operation officer Gwynne Shotwell, has been far more stable, churning out successful launch after successful launch. In the last 20 months, it has flown 34 rockets successfully in a row. It has disrupted the launch market, winning not just billions in NASA contracts, but contracts from the Pentagon as well. It also has a massive backlog of commercial launch contracts as well.
The rocket factory continues to hum along. So much so that during a recent media event to introduce the NASA astronauts assigned to fly on SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, there was a constant din of the factory that went on uninterrupted.
"All of that noise in the background, that is the sound of amazing things happening," said NASA astronaut Victor Glover.
SpaceX has also made space cool again, by making the impossible seem possible. Musk's vision of an interplanetary future may be somewhere in between dreams and delusion, but at the very least he's helped inspire a new generation of enthusiasts, the way the Apollo era did in the 1960s.
For his part, he has admitted that so much of what he hopes to achieve in space is aspirational. The goal, he said during that Mars announcement two years ago, was to "make Mars seem possible. To make it seem like it's something we can do in our lifetimes. That you can go."
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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