When a SpaceX rocket being prepared for launch exploded on Thursday on account of what the company has simply termed an ‘anomaly’—the explosion destroyed a satellite Facebook had leased for its Free Basics venture in Africa—it was the second spectacular failure the company has had in the last 15 months. At the same time, the successful landing of another Falcon 9 in December last year was a milestone for reusable rocket technology. So, while Mark Zuckerberg was conspicuously indifferent to SpaceX’s loss while lamenting the loss of the satellite—and one set of people saw this as a validation of the opinion that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is being brash in setting an impossible pace for his ventures—there is lots to be said about what Musk has achieved so far.
All of Musk’s ventures have far ambitious goals than typical businesses, even the hi-tech ones. Whether it is with Tesla, Solar City or SpaceX, the goals—from making autonomous electric cars a common sight on roads in the next few years to making humans a ‘multi-planetary species’—would seem outlandish to the risk-averse. This lot would cite how he is pushing Tesla to the brink to deliver the Model 3 cars by July next year even though he missed the deadline for the Model X SUV, or even how he is unlikely to meet his avowed goal of a mission to Mars in the next couple of years as evidence. But the fact is Tesla delivered the cars, albeit a little later than envisioned, and all throughout, it was also rewriting the urban personal transport paradigm for the years to come. Sure, the latest failure lost SpaceX millions of dollars, but of the 28 Falcon launches that preceded it, only two had failed. Stepping on the gas could be risky, but it also sets records.