There is a terrific article from Air & Space magazine profiling Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX. The focus of the profile is on SpaceX, which is building re-usable rockets at (relatively) low cost, first to supply the International Space Station, but with plans to later to fly humans to colonize Mars. Musk believes that it is important for human beings to become a multi-planet species. Sounds crazy on first hearing, but Musk is not to be ignored, and the long-term survival of human beings may depend on just such an achievement.
Read the whole piece, but here is an excerpt:
You can be rich enough to buy a rocket and still get sticker shock. In early 2002, PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, already a multimillionaire at 30, was pursuing a grand scheme to rekindle public interest in sending humans to Mars. A lifelong space enthusiast with degrees in physics and business, Musk wanted to place a small greenhouse laden with seeds and nutrient gel on the Martian surface to establish life there, if only temporarily. The problem wasn’t the lander itself; he’d already talked to contractors who would build it for a comparatively low cost. The problem was launching it. Unwilling to pay what U.S. rocket companies were charging, Musk made three trips to Russia to try to buy a refurbished Dnepr missile, but found deal-making in the wild west of Russian capitalism too risky financially.
On the flight home, he recalls, “I was trying to understand why rockets were so expensive. Obviously the lowest cost you can make anything for is the spot value of the material constituents. And that’s if you had a magic wand and could rearrange the atoms. So there’s just a question of how efficient you can be about getting the atoms from raw material state to rocket shape.” That year, enlisting a handful of veteran space engineers, Musk formed Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, with two staggeringly ambitious goals: To make spaceflight routine and affordable, and to make humans a multi-planet species.
Nine years later, SpaceX employs 1,500 people and occupies a half-million-square-foot facility in Hawthorne, California, that used to produce fuselage sections for Boeing 747s. Today it is filled with rocket parts, including stages and engines for its Falcon 9 boosters, which can place up to 23,000 pounds of payload in low Earth orbit.