PayPal co-founder Elon Musk sat down with Scott Pelley in a 60 Minutes interview aired March 18 to discuss one of his most ambitious ventures to date: the spacecraft manufacturing company SpaceX.
After trying his hand at the web, photovoltaic products and services, biotechnology, and electric cars, it's no surprise that the $2 billion entrepreneur has now moved on to building spacecrafts -- especially given the obvious passion he has for space (just watch him speak about it in the video above).
Musk founded SpaceX right after eBay bought PayPal back in 2002, and -- along with sending a greenhouse onto Mars with an intercontinental ballistic missile -- one of his objectives with the company was to make space travel more available to the public. As he explained to Pelley:
What I'm trying to do is make a significant difference in space flight and help make space flight accessible to almost anyone, and I would hope for as much support in that direction as we can receive.
Unfortunately, this idea is strongly opposed by space veterans like Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, who have spoken out against the commercialization of space travel and who also happen to be some of Musk's biggest inspirations.
But at least NASA and President Barack Obama are both willing to support Musk in his ventures; the President personally visited SpaceX's launch site back in 2010, not long before the successful test launch of the unmanned SpaceX rocket, Falcon 9.
And now that Musk has proven he can send things into orbit, his next step is the test launch of an unmanned spacecraft named Dragon to carry cargo to the International Space Station. According to Mashable, the mission was originally set to be completed on February 7, but NASA recently confirmed on Twitter on March 15 that it will now take place on April 30.
SpaceX’s launch of it's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule to the Space Station now is targeted for Monday, April 30, 2012 at 12:22 p.m. ET.— NASA (@NASA) March 15, 2012
All of these missions are mere steps Musk must take to reach his ultimate goal: a contract with NASA to launch America's next manned aircraft. In fact, he has a SpaceX manned shuttle prototype already ready to go.
While the space industry may see Musk as a long shot, that doesn't mean he lacks the brains, the skill, and the money (he's already shelled about $100 million out of his own pocket into SpaceX) to get the job done. Look at it this way: Only four entities have launched a space capsule into orbit and successfully brought it back to Earth -- the U.S., Russia, China, and (you guessed it) SpaceX.
Watch Elon Musk's full interview with 60 Minutes' Scott Pelley (above).
[Hat Tip: Business Insider]
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The bloon, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/24/bloon-space-balloon-pictures-video_n_935415.html" target="_hplink">a helium-filled balloon</a>, will take a capsule with as many as six people to 118,000 feet -- not quite outer space, but near space. The company expects to make its first commercial flight in 2013. The cost? €110,000, or about $147,000.
NASA announced in September that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/14/nasa-space-launch-system-sls_n_962051.html" target="_hplink">it's developing the Space Launch System (SLS)</a>, a heavy-lift rocket that will one day take humans farther than ever before. The 34-story rocket will carry six astronauts aboard the <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/mpcv/" target="_hplink">Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle</a>. <a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2392960,00.asp" target="_hplink">According to PC Mag</a>, NASA will spend $18 billion over the next five years developing the SLS. With <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/14/space-shuttle-program-qa-_n_861994.html" target="_hplink">the retirement of the space shuttle program</a>, NASA currently pays Russia around $60 million per person to get American astronauts into space. Remember, there's still time <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/nasa-to-hire-new-astronauts_n_1095686.html" target="_hplink">to apply to be an astronaut</a>.
Over 450 "astronauts" have already booked a $200,000 spot on Sir Richard Branson's SpaceShipTwo, a craft that will take passengers to an altitude of 110 km (68.3 miles). Branson hopes to begin commercial flights in 2013, but that date could get pushed back. "We want to be sure we've really tested the craft through and through before turning it over to the astronauts who bought tickets to go up," he said in October, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/richard-branson-dedicates_n_1017226.html" target="_hplink">according to the Associated Press</a>. "If it takes a bit longer, we'll take a little bit longer." Passengers will experience about five minutes of weighlessness during the 2 1/2 hour sub-orbital spaceflight.
In December 2010, SpaceX <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/16/spacex-international-space-station_n_927916.html" target="_hplink">became the first private company</a> to have a spacecraft re-enter orbit, <a href="http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20101208" target="_hplink">when its Dragon spacecraft</a> orbited earth twice and then landed in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop? The International Space Station. A representative from SpaceX told HuffPost that a Dragon capsule carrying supplies to the ISS will launch in early 2012. It will be the first commercial company to berth a spacecraft with the space station. But you're going to have to be a NASA astronaut to hitch a ride to space with SpaceX, as the company doesn't have any plans in the near future for space tourism.
Blue Origin, the notoriously-secretive company underwritten by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is developing both orbital and sub-orbital launch vehicles to take people into space. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/03/blue-origin-spaceship-fai_n_947731.html" target="_hplink">The company recently released video</a> of a test of its New Shepard rocket, a three-person capsule and launch vehicle that the company is planning to use to take space tourists "to the edge of space." The cost and timeline of the completion of the New Shepard is unclear. <a href="http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nasa-awards-next-set-of-commercial-crew-development-agreements-120113774.html" target="_hplink">In April, Blue Origin was awarded</a> $22 million from NASA "to advance commercial crew space transportation system concepts and mature the design and development of elements of their systems, such as launch vehicles and spacecraft."
Space Adventures, a company that has sent seven private citizens to the International Space Station, <a href="http://www.spaceadventures.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.viewnews&newsid=791" target="_hplink">announced in 2010</a> that it would partner with Armadillo Aerospace to provide suborbital spaceflights. The <a href="http://www.spaceadventures.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=suborbital.Vehicle_Design" target="_hplink">two-passenger rocket</a> will land and take-off vertically and allow for a 360-degree view of the earth below. According to Jaunted, the rocket will travel 62 miles above the earth. <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2010/05/13/space-adventures-undercuts-virgin-galactic-announces-100-000/" target="_hplink">Engadget reports</a> that a flight to space will set you back $102,000.
Of course, you'll need somewhere to put your bags once you're in space. Orbital Technologies, a Russian company, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/21/space-hotel-pictures-video_n_931951.html" target="_hplink">is building a space hotel</a> where 7 guests will be able to dine on veal cheeks and wild mushrooms at 217 miles above the earth. The company is planning to open the hotel in 2016. <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/19/russia-space-tourism-idUSLDE77F0PF20110819" target="_hplink">According to Reuters</a>, a five-day stay will set you back a cool $1 million.