Who CEO and Chief Technology Officer, Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
Why Watch? Low-budget satellite launch could open a new frontier.
Testifying before Congress last year, Elon Musk made an observation that should have shocked more people: In sharp contrast to almost every other field of technology, he noted, "The cost and reliability of access to space have barely changed since the Apollo era."
Forty years after John Glenn's ride, it remains ruinously expensive, and thus out of reach for anyone, outside of a government or a giant corporation, to put anything into space. Musk wants to revolutionize the space-launch business, which would open the door for more players, more competition, and more ordinary folks in space.
Early this year, Musk's tiny SpaceX company, which has a few dozen employees based in El Segundo, California, plans to launch the Falcon, a semi-reusable orbital launch vehicle that will be able to carry satellites - and later, perhaps, space tourists - into orbit for around $6 million a pop. That's bargain-basement pricing compared to the $20 million to $65 million or more charged by Boeing, Lockheed, Sea Launch, and other biggies, and the implications are enormous. Cheap launch could lead to cheap satellite phone serv-ice, cheap satellite TV, cheap satellite photography, satellite-enabled spying, and many more applications no one's thought of yet because it would be too expensive to try.
Musk, only 32, is a sci-fi fan with degrees in business and physics, and he has ploughed millions of his own money into the Falcon project (named after Han Solo's Millennium Falcon in Star Wars). But he can afford it: While still in his twenties, Musk founded Zip2, a web software maker. More recently he cofounded PayPal, which he sold to eBay in 2002 for a reported $1.5 billion. Just think how much he might yield from putting us all into orbit.