A look back at 2009 Elon Musk’s vision for the future

In 2009, Elon Musk wrote an article titled, “Risky Business” discussing his goals for the future and the challenges overcome thus far since SpaceX’s founding.

In May of 2009, SpaceX had only one successful launch under their belt, Tesla had delivered less than 500 of their first-generation Tesla Roadsters, and there were two more years of Space Shuttle launches remaining. Even 12 years ago, Elon had a firm plan to move forward to where they are today, and beyond.

Discussing the early beginning of SpaceX

He begins his post addressing the need to make life multi-planetary. This is something he has echoed many times since then and continues to work toward today. He discusses his previous plan for “Mars Oasis” which eventually led to to the creation of SpaceX. His desire to land a greenhouse on Mars opened his eyes to the obstacle that was the expense of rocket technology of the time. Having considered and dismissed the (now retired) Delta II rocket as well as refurbished Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, he resolved to gather a team to make it happen himself.

Falcon lifts off for its fourth flight. Credit: SpaceX

While reusability was a key focus when Elon founded SpaceX, at the time of the post he relinquished the goal as something that “will come later”. He said that on the fifth flight of Falcon 1 they had removed the recovery system to make more room for the payload, but during flight 6 they would attempt recovery. That sixth flight never came, instead, the Falcon 9 took its place and has become the workhorse of SpaceX. The planned Falcon 1e, Falcon 5, and Falcon 9 Air (an air-launched vehicle) never came to be. A version of the Dragon capsule, the Red Dragon, capable of landing on Mars was conceptualized, but with the removal of propulsive landing from the Dragon 2 those plans were scrapped.

Throughout the time since Musk first wrote the article, SpaceX has had many setbacks. SpaceX did not re-fly a booster until 2017, over 8 years after Elon Musk first wrote this article. The Crew Dragon Capsule that first launched Crew last year was repeatedly delayed. An anomaly during Amos-6 where a Falcon 9 exploded during a static fire attempt and an explosion of a Crew Dragon Capsule due to a valve leak were very public setbacks. While these setbacks could easily be described as failures, Musk took a different mindset when he was describing the first three failures of Falcon 1. In his post, he wrote, “it would be inaccurate to call them failures, as each one taught us a lot about the design of the rocket.” SpaceX has moved forward through every challenge they have faced.

Where is SpaceX now?

SN15 High Altitude Flight Test. Credit: SpaceX

For SpaceX, this last year has been especially rewarding. SpaceX has been wildly successful in achieving Musk’s goal of reusability. Over the last year we have seen the Falcon 9 increase its launch cadence dramatically; now capable of launching the same booster twice within a month. We recently saw SpaceX fly their first Falcon 9 booster for the 10th time. Three crews have flown to the International Space Station in the Dragon capsule, and we are looking forward to a civilian spaceflight in the capsule later this year. Finally, with Starship currently in development in Texas, SpaceX is moving ever closer to realizing Elon’s goal of making life multi-planetary.

I would highly recommend reading Musk’s original post, it is a real window into Elon Musk’s mindset in 2009.

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