Elon Reeve Musk, entrepreneur, inventor, architect, a genius who comes up with crazy ideas and has the audacity of following them to success. South-African by birth, this Canadian-American currently is the 94th wealthiest person in the world.
There is ample reason for that as well. The founder, CEO and CTO of SpaceX; co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla Inc; co-founder and chairman of SolarCity; co-chairman of OpenAl; co-founder of Zip2 and founder of X.com, which merged with Confinity and became PayPal is in no need of introduction. Even a complete layman has probably heard his name somewhere. Here, the plan is to bypass the obvious literature of his greatness and focus on what gives us hope that he is more than a businessman who can lead the human race to a level yet to be unattained.
Elon Musk is trying to redefine transportation on earth and in space. He is a guy who is on the verge of sending common folks on a journey in outer space but is humble enough to keep a book on How to build a rocket-ship in his office shelf. He is also the guy who inspired Robert Downey Jr. to start portraying the ruggedly handsome billionaire engineer who wooed the world with his technical know-how and literal shoot-for-the-stars ambition.
Long gone are the days when Henry Ford still ran his plantation, gobbling down all the raw materials in one go and spitting out the manufactured automobile from the other end. Nowadays when almost no company produces their own windshield, upholstery or rear-view mirrors, Tesla, one of the leading automobile manufacturers, would thrive in its self-sufficiency, in its in-house control of component parts. When importing raw material is the trend of the business, Musk sees dependence on foreign suppliers as a liability, not a smart containment of cost. The secret of his thriving business even in the face of huge losses is that he does not hoard his trade secrets, rather willingly gives away patents for free, not even charging license fees. This seemingly counter-intuitive approach makes him a darling to investors who can expect multi-dimensional profit from one idea. Today, Tesla Inc. is on a rising streak, valued over $45 billion worth more than Nissan Motor company and only a few billion shy of the reigning queen of Detroit: Ford Motor Company.
Coming to his passion of Astrophysics, his company SpaceX was the first non-governmental body to send a spacecraft to outer space and has got it back intact. It has made multiple successful cargo runs since then, and has pulled off the incredible feat of the landing of first stage Falcon rockets in the Atlantic on all four legs; upright. The latest announcement of sending two laymen on the moon has created the buzz Musk must have been expecting. It cannot be a co-incidence that the project will see the light of day close to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 lunar orbital mission, which was similarly pivotal to NASA launched in Christmas week of 1968. Musk knows his marketing as good as his rockets, as the timing did not escape his notice.
SpaceX has been the wunderkind company in people’s perception. Not only the far-fetched ambitions which are the fruits of the founder’s childlike tenacity, the company also endeavours for straight-forward projects giving out the message that it means business. It is already scheduled to carry out a project where astronauts are to be sent to International Space Station in 2018. Though the schedule has slipped from 2017 and could slip further. But the announcement of sending non-professionals to the moon is another case altogether. The passengers are already chosen, said to be ‘paying tourists’ of this ‘maiden voyage’. The company is reluctant to disclose the names but Musk has declared that it is no one from Hollywood. They must undergo intensive training to adjust their psychological needs. Other than that, the training will focus on handling emergency situations and surviving the physical rigour of the flight. The spacecraft will be completely automated.
In theory, the mission is relatively easy where the spacecraft swings around the far side of the moon, allowing its gravity to fling it back home. Even so, there are a great many things that can go horribly wrong. For instance, the brake engine can malfunction, in which case, the craft will crash on the surface of the moon. Engine failure can make the spacecraft a permanent satellite to the moon, orbiting it forevermore. These are the dark scenarios that created a lot of arguing inside NASA during the time of Apollo 8. This being a private venture obviously has less legal obligations but also puts a humongous amount of pressure to the masterminds. The biggest challenges of any space venture anyway, is getting out of earth’s atmosphere intact and again getting back in. For Musk it is especially difficult as he still does not have the right ship. The company’s workhorse Falcon 9, as the name suggests is integrating nine first stage engines keeping in mind the affordability and scalability, which means not spending the company’s R&D dollars. When that is settled, there is the business of getting back in earth’s atmosphere where you use the engine to pump the brakes which slow down the craft and it simply just falls down from the sky. Basically, the craft has to slam into the atmosphere at an exact degree for the impact to be productive and not destructive. This ‘skip entry’ part may be the most hair-raising portion of the mission.
Musk has boasted of venturing far beyond man has ever reached and even after all the risks and shortcomings, this does not sound impossible at all. Saturn V had only two unmanned launches before a man-led mission took place and only one of the two unmanned missions was successful. Similarly, Apollo 8 had its roadblocks before it opened a legitimate path for man landing on the moon.
Musk’s recent visit to the Pentagon in January when Former President Barack Obama still held office raised a lot of speculations especially after his joke on creating a real life Ironman suit. In the light of his existing contracts with the US Defence Department and his long chat with former Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, it is possible, that Musk finds himself as one of the board members, and who is to say that it won’t be Mars tomorrow after a successful venture to the moon. With his work on solar energy, literal aim for the moon and outdoing himself every day in the field of automobile luxury, he sure seems the man for the job.