As a space exploration nerd I appreciate today as a significant milestone, the lift-off of the privately funded Falcon 9 launch vehicle carrying the Dragon capsule into low-Earth orbit. After three days in orbit, the Dragon will put itself on a trajectory that will bring it close to the International Space Station, starting an intricate orbital dance that will allow SpaceX and the astronauts aboard the station to test the capsule’s communications and manoeuvring systems. If everything checks out, then the Dragon will nose right up to the ISS. The astronauts on board will grab it with a robotic arm and link it to the station, and the first private-sector delivery to the space station will then have taken place.
The Falcon/Dragon vehicle is the latest achievement by Elon Musk, a businessman who was born in South Africa and is one month shy of his 41st birthday. Best known for helping found PayPal and selling it to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion, he currently multitask by running two companies he founded: SpaceX, officially known as the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, and Tesla Motors, which in 2008 brought to market a head-turning all-electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster. He is also chairman of SolarCity, a company that designs and installs solar energy systems.