With $100 million of his early fortune Musk founded his third company, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, in June 2002. Musk is CEO and Chief Designer (CTO) of the Hawthorne, California-based company. SpaceX develops and manufactures space launch vehicles with a focus on advancing the state of rocket technology. The company’s first two launch vehicles are the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, and its first spacecraft is the Dragon. In seven years, SpaceX designed the family of Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon multi-purpose spacecraft from the ground up. In September 2009, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket, designed by Musk, became the first privately funded liquid-fuelled vehicle to put a satellite into Earth orbit. On May 25, 2012, the SpaceX Dragon vehicle berthed with the ISS, making history as the first commercial company to launch and berth a vehicle to the International Space Station.
SpaceX was awarded a contract from NASA in 2006 to develop and test a new launch vehicle, Falcon 9, to transport cargo to the space station, followed by a $1.6 billion NASA contract on December 23, 2008 for 12 flights of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, replacing the Space Shuttle after it retired in 2011. SpaceX is one of two contractors in the Commercial Resupply Services program, which replaces the cargo transport function of the Space Shuttle. Astronaut transport to the ISS is currently handled solely by the Soyuz, but as of 2014 SpaceX is also one of two companies remaining in the Commercial Crew Development program, which is intended to develop a US astronaut transport capability.
Musk was influenced by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and views space exploration as an important step in expanding—if not preserving—the consciousness of human life.
Musk said that multiplanetary life may serve as a hedge against threats to the survival of the human species. “An asteroid or a super volcano could destroy us, and we face risks the dinosaurs never saw: an engineered virus, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, catastrophic global warming or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us. Humankind evolved over millions of years, but in the last sixty years atomic weaponry created the potential to extinguish ourselves. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct.” His goal is to reduce the cost of human spaceflight by a factor of 10. In a 2011 interview, he said he hopes to send humans to Mars’ surface within 10–20 years.
The SpaceX factory was used as a filming location for Iron Man 2 ‘s Hammer Industries, and Musk has a cameo in the movie.