Elon Musk may have an impressive track record in the new space race, but he hasn’t actually gone to space himself. That could eventually change based on past comments, but SpaceX’s alternative approach to space travel could explain why Musk has yet to go.
This month, two high-profile spaceflight founders made headlines with their own trips:
1. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson flew on the firm’s first fully-crewed mission on July 11. The ship reached a maximum altitude of 53.5 miles or 86 kilometers before returning to Earth.
2. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos flew on the firm’s first crewed mission on July 20. The capsule reached a maximum altitude of 66.52 miles or 107 kilometers before returning to Earth.
Bezos and Branson both flew past the boundaries of space — depending on who you ask. Both firms specialize in suborbital space tourism, offering weightlessness for a few minutes before returning to Earth. That’s very different from SpaceX’s orbital crew and cargo launches for major contractors, and it helps explain why Musk has yet to go himself.
Never say never, though.
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Elon Musk: has he gone to space?
No, Musk has not yet gone to space.
It is unclear how high Musk has gone so far. His Gulfstream G550 private jet is rated for a maximum altitude of 51,000 feet or 15.5 kilometers — far below the 62 miles or 100 kilometers altitude used by many organizations as the boundary to space.
But although Musk’s plane has no chance of getting to space any time soon, there’s a good reason why he hasn’t employed his firm SpaceX to send him the rest of the way.
Elon Musk: is he going to space?
At the time of writing, Musk has no scheduled plans to go to space.
Musk has expressed interest in going to space on several occasions:
- In 2013, Musk said at the South by Southwest Festival that “I want to die on Mars, just not on impact.” He reiterated this in Decmber 2020.
- In 2018, he said that “maybe” he would accompany Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip around the Moon. Maezawa is scheduled to take a group of people with him on his tour as early as 2023, using the under-development Starship rocket.
SpaceX is currently developing its Starship rocket, designed to support future crewed missions to Mars. The firm is aiming to send the first crewed mission as early as the mid-2020s.
That means Musk could go to space sometime this decade. As the Moon is nearly a quarter of a million miles away from Earth, Musk could also travel much further into space than Bezos or Branson.
Elon Musk: why has he not gone to space?
The fact that Musk has not gone, while Bezos and Branson have, perhaps speaks to the differences between the companies.
SpaceX developed its human-carrying capsule, the Crew Dragon, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program. This was aimed at developing a means to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. After NASA’s shuttle program ended in 2011, the agency had to use Russian rockets taking off from Kazakhstan.
The firm succeeded in this goal. For the first crewed flight in May 2020, SpaceX launched astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on a trip to the space station.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have notably different drives to develop crewed spaceflight capabilities. The two firms plan to offer suborbital space tourism flights, enabling those rich enough to afford a ticket a chance to experience weightlessness for a few minutes.
Sending their founders on these flights demonstrates how going to space is a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience. SpaceX isn’t quite aiming for the same goals with its crewed missions.
SpaceX also plans to send private citizens to space, but even these early missions will largely focus on completing experiments or philanthropic work. This includes the September 2021 Inspiration4 mission and the Ax-1 mission no earlier than January 2022.
Musk may go to space at some point, but it’s not the firm’s priority.
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