SpaceX’s Founder Elon Musk’s Caltech Commencement Address

“A rapidly reusable transport system to Mars. It’s something right on the borderline of impossible. But, that’s the sort of the thing that we’re trying to achieve with SpaceX.”

From Elon Musk’s 2012 commencement address at Caltech: “What are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity? Not from the perspective, ‘what’s the best way to make money,’ which is okay, but, it was really ‘what do I think is going to most affect the future of humanity.’ The biggest terrestrial problem is sustainable energy. Production and consumption of energy in a sustainable manner. If we don’t solve that in this century, we’re in deep trouble. And the other thing I thought might affect humanity is the idea of making life multi-planetary.

“The latter is the basis for SpaceX and the former is the basis for Tesla and SolarCity. When I started SpaceX, initially, I thought that well, there’s no way one could start a rocket company. I wasn’t that crazy. But, then, I thought, well, what is a way to increase NASA’s budget? That was actually my initial goal. If we could do a low cost mission to Mars, Oasis, which would land with seeds in dehydrated nutrient gel, then hydrate them upon landing. We’d have a great photo of green plants with a red background [Laughter]. The public tends to respond to precedence and superlatives. This would be the first life on Mars and the furthest life had ever traveled.

“That would get people excited and increase NASA’s budget. But the financial outcome would be zero. Anything better would on the upside. So, I went to Russia three times to look at buying a refurbished ICBM… [Laughter] …because that was the best deal. [Laughter] And I can tell you it was very weird going late 2001-2002 to Russia and saying ‘I want to buy two of your biggest rockets, but you can keep the nukes.’ [Laughter] The nukes are a lot more. That was 10 years ago.

“They thought I was crazy, but, I did have money. [Laughter] So, that was okay. [Laughter] After making several trips to Russia, I came to the conclusion that, my initial impression was wrong about not enough will to explore and expand beyond earth and have a Mars base. That was wrong. There’s plenty of will, particularly in the United States. Because United States is the nation of explorers, people came here from other parts of the world. The United States is a distillation of the spirit of human exploration. If people think it’s impossible and it’s going to break the budget, they’re not going to do it.

“So, after my third trip, I said, okay, what we need to do already is try to solve the space transport problem and started SpaceX. This was against the advice of pretty much everyone I talked to. [Laughter]. One friend made me watch videos of rockets blowing up. [Laughter] He wasn’t far wrong. It was tough going there in the beginning. I never built anything physical. I never had a company that built something physical. So, I had to bring together the right team of people. We did all that, then, failed three times. It was tough, tough going.

There’s more to happen for humanity to become a multi-planet species. It’s vitally important. And I hope that some you have will participate in that at SpaceX or other companies. It’s really one of the most important things for the preservation and extension of consciousness. It’s worth noting that Earth has been around for 4 billion years, but civilization in terms of having writing is only about 10,000 years, and that’s being generous.”