It is easy to forget with all the headlines and excitement surrounding space exploration just what a monumental impact SpaceX has had on the world, and when one says SpaceX one is really saying Elon Musk. Musk is on of the defining people in the space industry today, but I believe he, alongside Neil Armstrong, will be the defining name for the next 50 years as the impact of his bold vision and leadership reach far into the future.
The space age has made many famous – the travellers over the engineers and scientists – but being remembered is more than just being famous. It requires achievement that stands out above all others. While Musk may never have a John Glenn, Uri Gagarin or Chris Hadfield (who? – Starman, thus proving my point), he is already as important a figure in science as Marie Curie (radioactivity), or Thomas Edison (many light bulb moments), not because he invented something like these exemplary individuals but because, in an age of continuous achievement he showed everyone that unicorn ideas have to be ridden hard to make it to the finishing line. And proof is everywhere. In an era of climate change why does every national space agency still use disposable rockets and systems that are expensively redundant?
If we had waited until the established order introduced change into the process, we would be fifty years behind where we are today. Don’t believe me? Then take the European Space Agency as an example. Without the pressure of a Musk character breathing down the collective neck of the European space industry see how much they have advanced towards renewable rockets or systems. And China, Russia, India and NASA aren’t much better, although the latter looks set to push SLS to the back of the warehouse and get commercial. But the truth is it will be at least another 20 years before Europe has a reusable rocket and more likely forty. And if the ‘process’ of National and Transnational agencies continue to take precedence over results, the world will be a poorer place for achievement and a more expensive one. Which means that in another fifty years we will still be marvelling at what SpaceX is achieving in the way that it does, and remembering a guy called Elon Musk.