Come up with the right mix of ambition, innovation and entrepreneurship, and the sky’s the limit. That proven formula was re-confirmed Tuesday as the power of private enterprise soared into orbit.
And while many Americans long ago took space flight for granted, SpaceX’s launch of a craft scheduled to reach the International Space Station with supplies on Friday was a welcome reminder that despite NASA scaling back its operations, mankind still has a long reach that extends far beyond the stratosphere.
So does, more specifically, SpaceX founder Elon Musk. Born and raised in South Africa, he earned economics and physics degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, dropped out of grad school at Stanford, then made it big as a computer whiz whose ideas, gumption and hard work streamlined online purchases.
As Wednesday’s New York Times reported, Mr. Musk built PayPal “into the primary means that eBay bidders use to pay for their purchases.”
Yet after generating net worth of roughly $170 million, mostly from his share of the $1.5 billion sale of PayPal to eBay, Mr. Musk dared to risk most of his fortune on what sounded to many business analysts like a high-stakes, high-altitude risk.
He founded SpaceX, aka Space Exploration Technologies Corp., a decade ago.
But getting that company off the ground wasn’t easy. Four years ago, after SpaceX’s first three rocket launches failed, it was running out of money — and time.
Mr. Musk took out loans to continue what a growing number of critics were prematurely dismissing as a quixotic quest.
His persistence, along with needed design changes, paid off Tuesday when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carried its unmanned Dragon capsule into orbit.
Though the cargo of 162 meal packets, 15 student experiments, one laptop computer and some changes of clothes might not sound like much, this mission demonstrates that national governments aren’t the only entitites that can lift off into space.
Mr. Musk, who turns only 41 next month, is also aiming high with his Tesla Motors’ all-electric cars and his SolarCity’s energy systems.
On Tuesday, however, he fairly focused on what he hailed as “the dawn of a new era of space exploration, and one where there’s a much bigger role for commercial companies.”
So good luck to Mr. Musk and the folks at SpaceX as their Dragon advances toward the space station.
And it’s good to know that you still can’t keep American ingenuity down.