Elon Musk – Remarkable Visionary or Just Another Nutjob?

February 8, 2018
Written By: Walda Woods

I’m fairly certain that people weren’t sure what to think about Elon Musk when he first hit the scene back in 1995. Still in grad school and enormously wet behind the ears, he left school to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Sound familiar?

Thousands of people give up what they’re doing to fulfill their dreams every day, but never get further than their own back door. No fire in the belly? Drive not strong enough? Not adequately thick-skinned? Zero on the patience scale? Made fun of and laughed at? All the above?

Perhaps Elon experienced all of these, however, there’s one attribute that he’s always had: Elon isn’t a quitter.

After several mid-sized ventures, 2002 called for him to be CEO of his brand-new company, SpaceX. He wanted to revolutionize space travel and just as importantly get people excited again about the prospect of space exploration. One of his biggest visions was to create rockets that can be reused repeatedly, the key to making spaceflight affordable enough for mankind to one day travel to Mars, Titan, Neptune and beyond.

But he was still virtually a nobody and the players in this game all thought he was a bit eccentric. And a bit delusional. A fool’s dreamer. But Elon just kept smiling. You know, he has that winning smile that just makes him so damn likeable.

I think he saw his vision many years ago and just kept it in the crosshairs. Because by 2006, SpaceX had won a contract with NASA to continue the development and testing of the Falcon 9 launch transport and Dragon spacecraft. These mechanisms and technology would be the new infrastructure used to transport shipments to the infamous International Space Station.

"Wait a second, who is this guy? Wait… What’s this guy’s name? Wait...who?"

Suddenly, the naysayers were paying attention. And standing in line to join him were some of the most highly sought-after scientists, who shared his vision. No pressure, boys.

Assembling three Falcon 9 boosters together, the team created what they called the Falcon Heavy. During a brief interview on launch day, and in his most charming and humble demeanor, Musk gives a statement on what SpaceX is attempting to accomplish:

"Most space organizations – government or commercial have set their sights too low. They’ve really built relatively small rockets. And Falcon Heavy is the first time that there’s something arguably somewhere in the super-heavy class. Or somewhere between heavy and super-heavy. And showing that you can launch a giant rocket and have it be commercially viable, carry satellites and potentially carry people. Falcon Heavy is capable of taking a dragon mission -- of taking people around the moon."

On February 6, 2018, from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, the Falcon Heavy successfully launched into space, amidst thousands of cheering onlookers up and down the Space Coast of Florida. Its maiden voyage consisted of a payload of… Elon Musk’s own personal blazing red Tesla Roadster, a car built by one of his companies, Tesla Motors.

At approximately 1:30pm, the Falcon Heavy launched went off without a hitch, all three boosters shot off the launch pad in perfect harmony. Eight minutes after liftoff, the two side boosters flew back to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station where they deployed landing legs and landed, in unison, on twin pads. The landings caused sonic booms that were so powerful, they literally shook the airstream and echoed up and down the Space Coast.

The center core, however, didn’t quite hit its landing mark dead center as the team had hoped. Only one out of its three landing engines managed to relight. It hit the water hard at 300 miles per hour, approximately 300 feet from its target, a drone ship placed strategically in the Atlantic Ocean. A tiny bump in an otherwise elegant maiden flight.

Meanwhile, the upper stage deployed the most unusual payload in space history. After a six-hour cruise phase through the Van Allen radiation belts, the historic launch managed to propel the Tesla Roadster into Earth orbit, eventually heading for an elliptical orbit around the Sun. Armed with three powerful cameras, the epic views from the Roadster started coming in.

Ryan Chylinski for SpaceFlightInsider.com

Thanks to YouTube, we all got to see this live video stream, lasting just over four hours. The live stream of the actual launch and subsequent events reached over 2.3 million concurrent views, the second largest stream in YouTube history.

With the launch completed successfully, the Roadster was officially given the USSPACECOM Satellite Catalog Number of 43205 and International Designator of 2018-017A. The description states "Tesla Roadster/Falcon SH". Once the Roadster eventually launches into its orbit around the Sun, it will reach beyond Mars, as far as the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Keep in mind, however, that it will not launch into Mars orbit. Neither the Falcon Heavy nor the Tesla Roadster have the required propulsion to enter Mars orbit and they are both lacking adequate maneuvering and communications capacity. The reason for using the Roadster as payload for these specific orbits is only to show that the Falcon Heavy can launch cargo that could eventually, under the right conditions reach Mars.

Musk is confident that the car could remain floating in space for as much as a billion years. Over time, it will begin to experience structural deterioration from solar and cosmic radiations, as well as micrometeorite encounters. At some point, the aluminum frame and any glass not broken by meteors will be the only remains of this most extraordinary cargo.

The SpaceX team responsible for adding the Tesla as payload have placed a handful of symbolic and amusing items in the Roadster. Sitting in the driver's seat is "Starman", a built-to-scale human dummy wearing SpaceX's pressure spacesuit. His right hand positioned on the steering wheel and his left elbow resting on the open windowsill, he’s appropriately named for the David Bowie song "Starman".

The fitting Bowie songs "Space Oddity" and "Life on Mars?" are whimsically looping on the Roadster sound system. Although, the vacuum of space prevents the transmitting of sound and the battery power will drain over time.

Not exactly like cruising through the ‘hood.

To top things off, there’s a copy of Douglas Adams' infamous 1979 novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the glovebox, a towel (symbolic to the book) and a metal emblem on the dashboard that reads "Don't Panic!" (another innuendo from the book).

On the front seat is a Hot Wheels miniature Roadster equipped with a tiny Starman, a plaque consisting of the names of the SpaceX team who worked on the project, a permanent running message on its circuit board - "Made on Earth by humans" and the piece de resistance – a copy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation on a laser optical quartz storage device.

So, not only is this launch a giant leap back into the space arena, it also carries with it an edge of human interest. It’s actually engaging. I must admit that I’ve never been incredibly interested in space exploration. At least not the way it’s been presented. But with the Tesla Roadster as payload – with the Starman and all the silly additives, come on……

How simply delicious can it get?

And I just thought of something -- as we get closer to the Mars expeditions and colonizing, can you imagine the tee shirts, coffee mugs and mouse pads? I want to stand on Cocoa Beach and watch the next launch. I want to celebrate with the mobs of Earth people. The excitement, the cheers, the applause……the sheer exhilaration of being there.

Elon Musk, here’s to you buddy. Thank you for re-opening a door that was slammed shut many years ago. And for making the re-try fun. You are a constant reminder that dreams and visions and passions are absolutely reachable.

No nutjob here.

Walda Woods

Walda Woods spent many years in the corporate world as a mid-level executive in the telecommunications and deregulated energy arenas. She now spends her time as a freelance writer and editor. Originally from Boston, MA, she currently lives in Topeka, KS to be near her family. Her unique blend of personality, humor and values is sprinkled throughout her writings and keeps her audiences coming back for more.

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