A few minutes before dawn tomorrow, Saturday, May 19, we’re set to cross what could be a major space-related milestone.
Tomorrow morning, an intriguing little startup firm called SpaceX is scheduled to launch one of its Falcon 9 rockets from Cape Canaveral, Fl., to dock its Dragon spacecraft with the International Space Station.
Make no mistake about it – this could mark a turning point for the U.S.
NASA ended the shuttle program last year. That leaves the U.S. hitching rides to the Space Station from our “good friends” the Russians. That’s not good for national security, much less for innovation and exploration.
We’ve already talked about the “New Space Race” – part of that being the asteroid mining initiative that private company Planetary Resources is embarking upon.
When it comes to space transportation, thankfully, SpaceX plans to pick up where cash-strapped NASA left off. Tomorrow’s launch could eventually have a value of at least $1.6 billion – that’s the total price tag for a contract NASA gave to SpaceX for 12 Space Station flights.
But there’s more to the story than that…
Commercializing Space Travel
I predict that in a few short years, commercial space travel will become routine.
Not only will we be mining all those near-space asteroids for vital resources, we will be able to visit Mars, and even send tourists out for close-up views of the planets.
That’s why, even though tomorrow morning is just a test run, there’s a lot riding on it. The company, crew, NASA, and investors all hope this new launch pulls it together for the firm and the budding commercial space sector.
There remains the chance that weather or some other glitch could put the launch off for a few more days. And even then, there’s certainly no guarantee of success. SpaceX failed in its first three launches. Then it bounced back in 2008 with a winning flight in which the capsule safely left the rocket and orbited Earth. For this one, again, they hope to send a rocket to actually dock at the International Space Station.
Should the test tomorrow end in failure, that would no doubt be a setback. But even if the worst does occur, from what I know about SpaceX, I don’t expect its leaders to throw in the towel.
CEO Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 and plowed $100 million of his own money into it. What they’re after – eventually – is the ability to offer space travel at approximate one-third of the cost per passenger that Russia can do it today, according to a recent Wired interview with another SpaceX co-founder.
If anyone can do it, it’s Elon Musk. Born in South Africa, he is a talented young entrepreneur with a knack for making money. (This is the man who was the inspiration for multi-billionaire industrialist Tony Stark in the film version of “Iron Man” – both for director Jon Favreau and for actor Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Stark.)
And he’s part of the reason I believe in SpaceX, even if the mission tomorrow goes bust.
This is just not a man who likes to take “no” for an answer.
He co-founded Internet payment business PayPal and sold it to Ebay (NASDAQ:EBAY) for a cool $1.5 billion just three years later.
Musk then founded a very hot startup in the electric car sector that you’ve probably heard of. Today, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) boasts a market cap of more than $3 billion. The stock has returned 34% over the past two years. Tesla is best known for a sleek sports car called the Roadster. The trade press raves about this flagship product. So does late-night TV host Jay Leno, a famous car buff with a huge collection of cool rides.
Here’s the thing about his next project.
SpaceX has deals pending with other governments and companies that could be worth many billions more.
And the company looks like to me like a strong IPO candidate. It not only has venture backing, it has so far received more than $380 million in NASA funding. So it has good cash flow and the chance to prove it can turn a solid profit before selling shares to the public.
Musk is another example of the kinds of bright minds that make me so optimistic about our future. Of course, we will have setbacks and losses along the way. Just as we have in the past. I believe that no matter what happens tomorrow, it’s a win for America. In the long run, we can’t help but succeed.
That means it’s just a matter of time before savvy investors find ways to get rich from the New Space Race. And SpaceX is just the kind of firm we want to watch in the Era of Radical Change.