Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has “the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets,” and with the launch of Falcon Heavy on Feb. 6, it has come one step closer to that goal. SpaceX has enabled a sports car to live on another planet.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket launched since the Saturn V, which took men to the moon in the 1960s. Falcon Heavy is headed to Mars, hoping to come into an elliptical orbit around the planet, with CEO Elon Musk’s own $100,000 Tesla Roadster on board playing David Bowie over the speakers and carrying the message “Don’t Panic!” on the dashboard.
The seeming superfluousness of sending the most powerful rocket towards Mars with a sports car raises a question: is Elon Musk an innovative visionary or an egotistical billionaire playing with really expensive toys?
According to Forbes, Elon Musk’s net worth is approximately $20 billion. With money like that why not play with electric cars and rockets? But while some of his ideas and projects may seem to have an “eccentric billionaire’s playtime” stamp, a closer look at Musk and his projects show that he is trying to innovate and make technological progress. He is not just bored and trying to find things to do with his money.
First, Musk worked hard for his money. From a young age Musk had an aptitude for technology. At 12 years old he taught himself computer programming and created a video game that he then sold to “PC and Office Technology” magazine. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, earned two degrees in physics and economics and started a doctorate in applied physics and material sciences at Stanford. But he quit and went on to make a fortune with his brother who started Zip2, a software company.
Afterward Musk co-founded X.com, which eventually merged with the company that created PayPal. That made him most of his money. Even though Musk was young, he wasn’t simply handed his fortune. He earned it by getting involved in the right startups and making shrewd business deals to sell them for millions of dollars.
Then came SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla in 2003. Musk had supposedly always been passionate about renewable energy and space travel, and now he’s trying to accomplish both. More than Tesla, which was originally financed by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, SpaceX is particularly Musk’s brain child. With $100 million from his own pocket, Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 and still serves as CEO and chief technology officer.
SpaceX is trying to advance rocket technology with the far reaching goal of enabling humans to live on other planets. After launching rockets such as Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Dragon, the work of SpaceX did not go unnoticed, and it was awarded a contract from NASA in 2006. In 2015, SpaceX landed the first part of its Falcon rocket back at the launch pad, marking the first time an orbital rocket had done so. This is one step closer to rocket reusability and, therefore, cheaper space travel.
The launch of the Falcon Heavy means the U.S. now owns rockets with heavy-lift capabilities, something NASA has not had since space travel in the ‘60s. Has Musk just accomplished something that was done 50 years ago? Yes, but he did it cheaper than NASA and the U.S. did. SpaceX rockets use refined controlled burning, which means that one flight of Falcon Heavy costs $90 million, instead of the whopping $1 billion per flight that NASA’s future Space Launch System is estimated to cost.
Maybe Musk was flaunting his ego and wealth a little when he put his personal sports car on his rocket. But his grandiosity proved that Falcon Heavy has heavy-lift capabilities. And Falcon Heavy was created to show that a cheaper option for rocket technology and space travel is possible. He has proved that he’s not just a billionaire playing with rockets. Musk is a seriously educated individual who built SpaceX as an innovative company to create better, cheaper options for rockets and space travel.
Abby Liebing is a sophomore studying history.