John Glenn. Neil Armstrong. Elon Musk?
Musk, C’97, W’97, may not be heading into space any time soon, but he is doing something revolutionary in the aerospace industry. Musk is the founder, CEO and chief designer of Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX.
Wharton Magazine interviewed Elon Musk nearly two years ago, when SpaceX had just launched its first rocket into orbit. SpaceX’s achievements have become far more notable since then.
SpaceX’s Dragon has made history. On May 22, the spacecraft successfully launched and carried cargo to the International Space Station. Its attachment to the space station on May 25 made SpaceX the first private company in history to dock there; only four government-administered space organizations have accomplished this. Dragon’s re-entry also made history: It is the only spacecraft capable of returning to Earth with a sizeable payload from the space station. The reusable vehicle splashed down and was retrieved by SpaceX on May 31.
The 10-day trip was a unique moment in history and is being heralded as the beginning of the commercial space age. The mission was also a pivotal moment for SpaceX—it reportedly doubled the valuation of the company.
But Musk’s thirst for innovation isn’t quenched by SpaceX. Musk also co-founded Tesla, a car company that produces all-electric vehicles. In 2010, Tesla solely produced roadsters but had eyes on more modest cars over the long term. Now, Tesla is taking reservations for two mid-priced sedans: Model S and Model X. Model S is scheduled to begin production this fall and will offer customers up to 300 miles per charge with zero tailpipe emissions.
Despite the immense challenges of creating a successful all-electric car company and launching a mission to the International Space Station, Musk remained undeterred in his ventures. Speaking to CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Musk said: “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds aren’t in your favor.”
As founder of Zip2 and PayPal as well, Musk may be more accurately viewed as a modern-day renaissance man than space pioneer. Perhaps a better list would group Musk with Leonardo DaVinci and Benjamin Franklin.