In 2001, Musk conceptualized “Mars Oasis”; a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse on Mars, containing food crops growing on Martian regolith, in an attempt to regain public interest in space exploration.
In October 2001, Musk traveled to Moscow with Jim Cantrell (an aerospace supplies fixer), and Adeo Ressi (his best friend from college), to buy refurbished Dnepr Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could send the envisioned payloads into space. The group met with companies such as NPO Lavochkin and Kosmotras; however, according to Cantrell, Musk was seen as a novice and was consequently spat on by one of the Russian chief designers and the group returned to the United States empty-handed.
In February 2002, the group returned to Russia to look for three ICBMs, bringing along Mike Griffin. Griffin had worked for the CIA’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, as well as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and was just leaving Orbital Sciences, a maker of satellites and spacecraft. The group met again with Kosmotras and were offered one rocket for US$8 million, however, this was seen by Musk as too expensive; Musk consequently stormed out of the meeting. On the flight back from Moscow, Musk realized that he could start a company that could build the affordable rockets he needed. According to early Tesla and SpaceX investor Steve Jurvetson, Musk calculated that the raw materials for building a rocket actually were only 3 percent of the sales price of a rocket at the time.
It was concluded that theoretically, by applying vertical integration and the modular approach from software engineering, SpaceX could cut launch price by a factor of ten and still enjoy a 70-percent gross margin. Ultimately, Musk ended up founding SpaceX with the long-term goal of creating a “true spacefaring civilization”.
With US$100 million of his early fortune, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, in May 2002.
Musk is chief executive officer (CEO) and chief technology officer (CTO) of the Hawthorne, California-based company. SpaceX develops and manufactures space launch vehicles with a focus on advancing the state of rocket technology. The company’s first two launch vehicles are the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets (a nod to Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon), and its first spacecraft is the Dragon (a nod to Puff the Magic Dragon).
In seven years, SpaceX designed the family of Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon multipurpose spacecraft. In September 2008, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket became the first privately funded liquid-fueled vehicle to put a satellite into Earth orbit.
On May 25, 2012, the SpaceX Dragon vehicle berthed with the ISS, making history as the first commercial company to launch and berth a vehicle to the International Space Station.
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