Sunday, May 30, 2010
Divorcing Elon Musk from SpaceX
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk
Many canards are circulating around the Internet in an attempt to discredit President Obama's FY 2011 NASA budget proposal, which among other things proposes to grow the commercial space sector for Low Earth Orbit access by astronauts and private customers.
Several companies are interested in the private space business, but for some reason critics have fixated on one company, SpaceX. Perhaps it's because SpaceX already has an operation at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, at Launch Complex 40.
SpaceX has patiently awaited its turn to launch the experimental Falcon 9 rocket. It's currently scheduled for Friday June 4 between 1 PM - 5 PM EDT. SpaceX had to wait until United Space Alliance launched its Delta IV, and for the orbiter Atlantis to land. They've also had to wait for the Air Force to certify their launch termination system.
Its founder and CEO, entrepreneur Elon Musk, is currently going through a divorce. The web site VentureBeat.com reported on May 27 that Musk's divorce papers were quoted as stating he had "run out of cash" four months ago.
Obama critics quickly seized on this to falsely claim that SpaceX is out of money and about to go bankrupt, but a SpaceX executive quickly refuted the allegation. According to Space News on May 28:
[SpaceX vice president of strategic relations Larry] Williams said SpaceX’s progress on flight hardware is unaffected by the personal finances of the company’s founder and chief executive, Elon Musk, who told a California divorce court in February that he was out of cash and had resorted to borrowing money from friends to cover monthly household expenses.
"SpaceX is a company of 1,000 men and women developing and producing highly reliable and low cost space transportation systems. We have been financially stable with no investment from our CEO for many years," Williams wrote in a May 28 e-mail. "SpaceX has well over $2 billion under contract … Therefore, any momentary illiquidity that Elon may be experiencing is completely irrelevant to the company and our future."
Williams said that although Musk remains SpaceX's largest shareholder "he is only one of a number of investors at this point." Other large investors, he said, include Menlo Park, Calif.-based Draper Fisher Jurveston and the Founders Fund, a San Francisco firm managed by one of Musk’s former PayPal partners.
The filing shows that Musk draws a $1,690/month salary from SpaceX.
Critics have also falsely claimed that Musk is a "hobbyist" and that Falcon 9 is no more than a "toy." The truth is that SpaceX has about 900 employees, most of them at its Southern California headquarters. Among its executives is five-time Shuttle astronaut Ken Bowersox, who is the Vice President of Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance.
Whatever happens on June 4 will be hyped out of proportion. It's simply one test of a new rocket design, nothing more. It would be nice if people would be honest about what's happening at Pad 40 and not make up lies just to suit their political agenda, but the critics don't seem to be interested in the truth these days.