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Elon Musk (photo: Wiki­media Commons)

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.