SXSWORLD February 2013


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P H O T O C O U R T S E Y O F S PA C E X For Elon Musk, the Future Is Now by Charlie Widdoes Elon Musk I n May 2012, 253 miles above Auckland, New Zealand, the unmanned SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS). It exchanged more than 1,000 pounds of cargo before safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean almost a week later. It was the first such mission in the history of space exploration for a non-governmental vehicle. But for Elon Musk, the visionary South African entrepreneur and inventor behind SpaceX, as well as other ambitious business and technological ventures (he was first known as a co-founder of PayPal), it was merely another step in the right direction. His goals are lofty, yet simple: to make rockets reusable and to produce electric cars that, eventually, everybody will be able to afford. Former President George W. Bush presented an opportunity to accomplish the former when he opened the space industry to the private sector, and less than four years later, he won the NASA contract to provide a commercial replacement for the cargo transport function of the Space Shuttle. Following the unprecedented success of Dragon, his Grasshopper reusable rocket has continued to make strides. The rocket, which takes off and lands vertically — that second part is crucial — has made three consecutive launches, each increasing in height: first in 26 SXSWORLD / FEBRUARY 2013 September, travelling two meters (six feet); in November it went 5.4 meters (17.7 feet); and then on December 17 it traveled up (and then down) 12 stories, nearly 40 meters (130 feet). The positive trend lends credence to Musk's claim that we will be sending families to Mars by the year 2029. For defensive purposes, to enhance human civilization's odds of long-term survival by being on multiple planets, and because it is in our nature to seek such adventure, Musk believes that making it possible for families to travel to the Red planet is a priority. One key component in Musk's vision is affordability. Other entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson have stated desires to take humans into space as a high-end tourist experience. Yet Musk is focused on sustainability and wide-reaching appeal. He says that for space travel to become feasible for American families, it must (and can) cost $500,000 or less. "The fundamental breakthrough is a rapidly and completely reusable rocket. In the absence of that, space transportation will remain two orders of magnitude more expensive than it should be," he told Wired recently. Musk also is attempting to make a huge breakthrough with his Tesla car company. He has applied his Silicon Valley background to his quest to lead the first new American car company in 90 years. But progress on that front has not been nearly as resounding as it has been with rockets. There are questions about Tesla's profitability, even though Musk believes that the entire automotive industry is headed towards electricity. "I think all modes of transport will go fully electric, ironically with the exception of rockets," he told Bloomberg TV. It is a challenge to take a car from high cost, low volume production to a low cost, high volume model that can compete with Toyotas and Hondas. However, Musk remains optimistic. The next phase of production for Tesla is the Model S, which is the first all-electric car to win Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" award and has already sold out all of 2013's production line of more than 6,500 units in advance. He knows this is a critical moment in Tesla's development. No matter how sound the technology or how prescient the vision, the company has to make money to continue operation. Yet, when you consider what Musk has done to this point at the still young age of 41, it is hard not to be excited about what the future holds for his ventures. ■ Elon Musk will be a keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive. In addition to Musk, SXSW Interactive keynote sessions include game industry veteran Julie Uhrman, founder and CEO of OUYA, participating in a keynote interview at SXSW Interactive with Joshua Topolsky, co-founder and founding editor-inchief of The Verge. Much more than a record-breaking Kickstarter darling, OUYA is the $99 free-to-play game console built on Android and designed by Yves Behar. It is slated for release in March 2013. Designer Tina Roth Eisenberg will deliver also deliver a keynote address. Roth Eisenberg is often referred to as "swissmiss," the name of her popular design blog. has a growing audience of 1.3 million monthly unique readers and was selected by The Times as one of the world's Top 50 design blogs. She also runs a Brooklyn-based collaborative workspace called Studiomates, is the inventor of the popular to-do app called TeuxDeux and organizes a monthly lecture series called CreativeMornings.

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