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Why Did Elon Musk Just Send a Tesla to Outer Space?

February 07, 2018

  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched one of the world’s largest rockets into space
  • Private companies are revolutionizing space travel and exploration
3 min read

If humans can travel to the moon, why can’t a Tesla?

On Tuesday, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), the space company founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, launched one of the world’s largest rockets into outer space, from the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The 230-foot spacecraft, dubbed the Falcon Heavy, roared into the earth’s outer atmosphere at around 4 p.m. EST, with the aid of 27 engines reported to have the thrusting power of 18 Boeing 747 jumbo jets. In its payload chamber, the ship carried a red Tesla Roadster, which will orbit the sun indefinitely.

Explaining why he was sending a car to outer space, Musk wrote on Twitter toward the end of 2017:  “I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future.”

The Heavy is the biggest rocket to reach space since the 1969 launch of the Apollo 11, which brought astronauts to the moon, according to reports.

What is SpaceX doing?

The launch marks a dramatic shift in the way space science is being pioneered in the U.S. Long the domain of the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), the federal government’s space program, private companies are now helping to drive space exploration and innovation.

SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002 and which currently has 5,000 employees, reportedly plowed $1 billion of its own cash into the mission.

The company manufactures a variety of rockets, thrusters, and space modules, including a single-engine, reusable rocket called the Falcon 9. SpaceX works with a combination of federal and international government space agencies, as well as commercial flight businesses.

Over time, SpaceX has dramatically cut costs in the space industry, according to some reports, by manufacturing about 70% of all the equipment it needs in its own facilities. It was the first private company to put a payload into orbit in 2008, and has since launched satellites and brought unmanned spaceships with cargo to the International Space Station.

Two of the side boosters used to power the Heavy on Tuesday returned to Earth and landed vertically, in unison, back at Cape Canaveral, minutes after powering the spacecraft into orbit. They landed near the spot of the Apollo mission launch, which first brought astronauts to the moon.

The SpaceX launch is reportedly a test for carrying heavy telecommunications satellites and, eventually, humans into space.

The era of private space exploration

Musk isn’t the only wealthy entrepreneur investing in space travel. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also has skin in the game, with a company called Blue Origin, which manufactures reusable space capsules, rockets and boosters.

In 2004, Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson launched something called Virgin Galactic, which is developing commercial flights for consumers to space, priced at around $250,000 a pop.

Public companies vs. private companies

A public company is one that has shares that trade on the open market. Public companies, such as Tesla, have reporting obligations, and must file paperwork every quarter with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), detailing their financial performance. These documents are open to the public to view at any time.

A private company, such as SpaceX, can also have shares, but they are owned by a smaller group of investors, and the shares don’t trade on the open market. In contrast, private companies don’t have reporting obligations with the SEC, and it is often difficult for the public to get information about them.

“I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future.”

Who is Elon Musk?

By Jeremy Quittner
Jeremy Quittner is the senior writer for Stash.

*Tesla shares started trading at $17 in 2010. They are currently worth about $340, according to Yahoo Finance, as of February 7, 2018.

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