SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk took to the stage yesterday at the SXSW (pronounced 'south-by-southwest') music and technology festival in Austin, TX to discuss a wide range of topics, from his Mars vacation plans to Tesla's recent dust-up with the New York Times. Our coming future in space was the headline topic, however, and Musk reiterated much of his vision for a spacefaring humanity.
The highlight of his talk was the unveiling of a new video showing the company's Grasshopper test rocket performing its most accurate vertical takeoff and landing yet. Musk hopes that the Grasshopper technology will eventually allow rockets to safely return to Earth after delivering their payload to space. He believes that reusable rockets are the key to a more advanced exploration of space, and I'm inclined to agree. For financial reasons, it doesn't make a lot of sense to design the most advanced rocket if you're only going to use it once. Would an airline be able to afford buying a new Airbus A380 for every leg of a trip? Of course not - the plane's reusability is what makes its advanced features affordable to everyone. Even if you're not trying to pack more technology in, reusable rockets makes access to space cheaper, which means more exploration and more innovation.
Musk is also still planning to retire on Mars - if his company can continue to succeed without him. He's willing to make a one-way trip to the red planet in the name of expanding humanity's footprint in the solar system. Of course, there are still many technological barriers to overcome. As he put it: "I'd like to die on Mars, just not by impact." He's also hoping for some contact with alien species, just not the 'we're coming to destroy you' type.
He also gave some public advice to Boeing about the battery issues facing the Dreamliner. Tesla Motors is one of the most advanced battery producers in the world, so Musk isn't just spouting off here. Boeing has apparently rejected help from the automaker, but hopefully his comments are useful to someone.
The talk was pretty wide-ranging, and if an official video is released, I'll update this story with it.