Entries in SpaceX (3)


Billionaire Entrepreneur Wants to Put Man on Mars

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As the Mars rover Curiosity, a $2.5 billion robot the size of a Mini Cooper, touched down last night, one billionaire was already planning the next logical step -- sending humans there.

"I'm confident at this point that it can be done," Elon Musk told ABC’s Nightline in an interview at SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles. "I think we'll be able to send, probably, the first people to Mars in roughly 12 to 15 years. That's my estimate."

Musk, who made his billions as an Internet entrepreneur, wants to bring Silicon Valley ingenuity to a space exploration process that, until recently, has been something only governments tried to tackle.

He entered the space race in 2010 with his company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, reusable spacecraft built with the goal of taking astronauts into space and returning them safely to Earth.

Musk said he is aware he has competitors in this new space race -- one reason why SpaceX does not patent any of the top-secret technology it creates.

"The rockets we're building right now could certainly send probes to Mars, like the Mars rovers and that kind of thing," he said. "But the rockets we hope to build in the future are the ones that could take people and cargo to Mars and establish a Martian base."

And he has big plans for Mars -- not just taking people there, but making it possible for people to thrive there and even establish businesses.

"Mars is the only place in the solar system where it's possible for life to become multi-planetarian," Musk said. "We could make Mars like Earth…it's more than our life raft, it's like backing up the biosphere."

One of the biggest challenges of colonizing the red planet is making the trip affordable for the average American, he said, which is "extremely difficult."

While Musk's outer space ambitions may sound bold, he has a track record. After leaving his native South Africa at 17, he went into online commerce with his brother. One of his companies is known today as PayPal. That company brought him his first billion dollars, which he poured into his electric car company, Tesla, and an energy services company Solar City, two companies now at the cutting edge of renewable energy.

Watch the full story on ABC's Nightline tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


SpaceX Launch Aborted at Last Moment

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It was to have been the dawn of a new era, private companies launching into space and on to the International Space Station.

The first such launch was set for before dawn this morning, and it came tantalizingly close.

But the SpaceX rocket never got off the ground.

The launch was aborted just half a second before liftoff.

It was so close, that even NASA announcer George Diller was caught by surprise.

“Three, two, one, zero and liftoff,” said Diller. Then he realized the rocket was still on the pad, “We’ve had a cutoff. Liftoff did not occur.” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell blamed high combustion pressure in engine no. 5, one of nine engines needed for liftoff.

Onboard computers detected the problem, and shut everything down.

Shotwell said engineers will now being trouble shooting to find and fix the problem, and switch out the engine if necessary.

The next possible launch date is next Tuesday, May 22.

Despite the disappointment of today’s near-launch, Shotwell insisted, “This is not a failure. We aborted with purpose”, she said, “It would be a failure if we were to have lifted off with an engine trending in this direction.”

SpaceX is one of a handful of private companies racing to get into space, hoping to send cargo and eventually astronauts to the space station for NASA.

With the space shuttles parked in museums and NASA relying on the Russians for space transportation, the agency is looking to private companies to fill in the gap.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told ABC News, these commercial companies are “now going to be primarily responsible for building and operating, and we’re going to buy the service from them or purchase the service from them.”

NASA has shelled out $396 million to SpaceX for test flights, like this mission. It also has a $1.6 billion contract with the company for 12 cargo flights to the space station.

SpaceX is the dream of billionaire Elon Musk, who made his fortune creating PayPal.

He began his space efforts a decade ago.

Before the launch he was both realistic and optimistic.

Musk told ABC News, “I think we are more likely than not going to succeed in this mission but it is a test flight. And there is certainly any number of things that could go wrong. And so we may not actually. We have 2 more flights for later this year. So I’m confident that one of those flights will make it.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NASA Gambling Space Program on Unproven Companies?

ABC News Radio(WASHINGTON) -- Members of Congress Thursday signaled they are growing concerned with NASA's decision to bank on two commercial start-up companies to carry cargo, and possibly astronauts, to the International Space Station once the space shuttle program retires this summer.

NASA has committed billions of dollars and assigned the risky task of delivering supplies to the station to two companies that were unproven in the rocket business, but that have both promised to develop a less costly formula for travel to space: California-based SpaceX and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences. Government auditors reported to Congress that both companies have experienced delays and, at least initially, both underestimated the amount of money it would take to begin launching rockets.

Rep. Ralph Hall, a Texas Republican, told members gathered at a hearing on commercial space program Thursday that he is worried NASA is relying too heavily on the two companies.

"NASA…is now gambling the future of space station on the success two very new launch systems," Hall told members of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. "I simply regret that there continues to be so much uncertainty about our nation's ability to reliably get cargo to Station with the final Shuttle flight now less than two months away."

With the Space Shuttle Endeavor currently docked with the space station, and only one more shuttle flight scheduled, NASA officials and outside experts have agreed that the storied American space program is about to enter a murky period known as The Gap. It will be the first time since 1981 that the U.S. will completely lack the ability, on its own, to put astronauts into space. And NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told ABC News he is working hard to limit the duration of the gap.

His strategy has been to focus NASA's energy on future plans for deep space exploration, while relying heavily on commercial outfits such as SpaceX to lift satellites into orbit and service the space station.

Senior executives from both companies told members of Congress Thursday they are confident in their ability to take on those tasks, and said they are on target to mount test launches of the rockets they are developing later this year. They predicted they will begin shuttling supplies to the space station in 2012.

SpaceX President Gwynn Shotwell noted that when the company successfully launched a test flight last year, orbited a capsule around the earth, and recovered it upon reentry, it had accomplished something that had only previously been achieved by six nations, and never by a private company.

William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, told the committee members their plans, while ambitious, were realistic. At the same time, he tried to temper that optimism by reminding the House members that space travel, no matter how routine it may seem, is never easy, and they should expect some delays.

"Establishing a regular flight rate after the initial flights will not be easy," Gertenmaiar said. "I think both companies are well prepared to move forward. We're prepared for the problems that will occur. We anticipated these inevitable start up challenges associated with a technologically ambitious endeavor."

Those concerned about the risks of relying on commercial companies for space travel, Shotwell said, should keep in mind that the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon capsule "were each developed from a blank sheet to first launch in four and a half years for approximately $300 million each."

Several members, however, continued to voice their concerns about NASA's approach. Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo, a Mississippi Republican, said he wanted the companies to be forthcoming about their progress, and about the costs of their endeavors.

"I want to remind NASA and the commercial partners that you are spending taxpayer money, and lots of it. So you will not be exempt from oversight and financial scrutiny," Palazzo said. "NASA has spent $1.25 billion over the last five years and it is my firm hope that before the year is out we will have real proof that this investment has been worthwhile."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio