Kudos, Elon Reeve Musk!

Elon Musk 1 photo
Photo: Instagram/Elon Musk
Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. That's how Tony Stark described himself to Captain America in the first Avengers movie. And mine would not be the first parallel between the Marvel character and the living, breathing Elon Musk, founder of so many companies and the first human to send a car into space.
The world as we know it today is caught between Musk's amazing achievements and his childish bursts of insanity. Between his great dreams of conquering the stars and providing unlimited energy for humanity and his foolish yet succesful efforts of selling hats and flamethrowers.

As an entrepreneur, Elon Musk has had mixed results. He started his business career by putting together a web software company called Zip2, acquired in 1999 by Compaq for $307 million in cash and $34 million in stock options. He was one of the five founders of online payment service Paypal, from which he was ousted in 2000 due to disagreements with the board.

His adventure in the car making business, Tesla, has also had mixed results. The company's first car, the Roadster, proved a hit and allowed for the development of further models. Since 2008, when he took over the business altogether, his employees have repeatedly complained about how they are treated, the production lines are in constant delays, and more recently the quality of the cars seem to be dropping. At the same time, the carmaker's debt is increasing.

All that aside, Musk remains a visionary. SpaceX, the company at the center of this week's biggest news, was founded before Musk's involvement in Tesla, in 2001. And it has been progressing, ever since, towards achievements more significant perhaps than NASA's space race against the Russian.

What made Musk a success story in space exploration? We all know other billionaires have tried as well. Take Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's dream of creating the world's first commercial spaceflight company, to take tourists to a cold dark place from where to contemplate the world they were born on.

Some 10 years ago, Virgin Galactic was the talk of the moment. In 2008, Branson was speaking about a maiden space voyage of his ship within 18 months. They unveiled the SpaceShipTwo in 2009, already hoping to sell $200,000 tickets to a scheduled 2011 first flight.

In 2011, another 18 months were added to the deadline. It was not only until 2013 that the SpaceShipTwo made its first rocket-powered test flight. It lasted just 16 seconds. Things looked good for a 2013 inaugural flight, which Branson promised to board himself.

He then postponed again for 2015. Virgin Galactic didn't make it that far. In 2014, one of the SpaceShipTwo-class ships, the VSS Enterprise, broke apart in mid-air. To this day Branson's dream is still grounded, trapped in a series of test flights for the second ship, VSS Unity.

In all the time Branson was struggling, Musk was working in the shadows on a revolutionary technology: reusable rockets. The main reason humans don't fly to space more often is the cost per launch. Most of this value represents designing and building boosters powerful enough to defeat Earth's gravity. And it all goes down the drain after each launch.

What Musk envisioned will allow for far less money to be spent on boosters. That, in turn, will lead to more launches and, in the long term, more ambitious goals.

The Falcon 9 repeatedly proved the technology used in its development is viable. The single booster managed to land both on land and on sea-based drone ships. The Falcon Heavy showed the world that several Falcon 9 boosters can work just as well. Sure, only two of three boosters made it back in one piece, but what a thrill it was watching the surviving two landing in sync.

Just imagine how the world would look should other billionaires be just as determined to pursue humanity's dreams of expanding to the stars. What if Warren Buffet gave some of his fortunes for this? Or Jeff Bezos?

As we see in Musk's case, money just isn't enough. Money needs vision, drive, and hope. Musk may not have the managerial skills of Steve Jobs. He may not have the Dieter Zetsche's approval rating. But he does seem to have the will to pursue his dream.

Fortunately, he also has a very talented team at SpaceX. One that, through their successful launch this week, will inspire others to train harder, dream bolder and achieve bigger.

Manpower exists. So does talent. Money, apparently, is not a problem. All humanity needs now is a leader to send it into space. A leader to start a new space race. For lack of a better one, Musk is at the moment that leader.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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