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Musk said he's sad that American space heroes like Armstrong and Gene Cernan don't approve of his work

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has all the confidence in the world that his company will provide the first manned spaceflight for America since the retirement of NASA's space shuttle program, especially since the company's Dragon capsule just completed the first NASA Crew Trial. But he is faced with criticism from some of the country's largest space heroes like Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan.

Musk recently participated in a "60 Minutes" interview with correspondent Scott Pelley, where Pelley was escorted around the SpaceX factory near Los Angeles, California. Musk showed off SpaceX projects like the Falcon Nine rocket and the Dragon cargo capsule, explaining that SpaceX is ultimately working to make spaceflight cheap and available to anyone. He also mentioned that all projects are assembled right in the plant, where materials come in one end of the factory and a full spacecraft comes out the other.

After NASA retired its space shuttle program last year, U.S. astronauts have depended on Russia to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Sending a U.S. astronaut on a Russian Soyuz rocket costs about $60 million per seat, and this price is expected to rise. With that in mind, America is working to create its own spacecraft once again, and SpaceX is at the top of the list of private companies competing to send a U.S. astronaut into space after NASA.

Elon Musk and the Falcon 9 [Source: Discovery]

Last week, SpaceX announced that the Dragon completed the first NASA Crew Trial, which is one of two tests that will help SpaceX work to build a prototype Dragon crew cabin. This milestone allowed NASA astronauts to provide feedback to SpaceX for a new crew cabin design. The prototype features seven seats, cargo racks, life support systems, and displays.

Despite this milestone, Musk's company has received some criticism recently from American space heroes Neil Armstrong, who was the first astronaut to step foot upon the Moon on Apollo 11, and Gene Cernan, who was the last man to step foot upon the moon on Apollo 17. Armstrong and Cernan have both testified to Congress that commercializing space would lead to safety issues and cost the taxpayers at some point. Musk's inexperience with space also has some worried, since his degrees are in business and physics, not aerospace. Musk claims to be self-taught through reading books and talking to those who are experienced.

Neil Armstrong (L) and Gene Cernan (R) testify before before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee [Source: Zimbio]

Musk told Pelley that he looked up to Armstrong and Cernan, and that it was disappointing to hear that they disapprove of his work.

"I was very sad to see that because those guys are, you know, those guys are heroes of mine, so it's really tough," said Musk. "You know, I wish they would come and visit, and see the hard work that we're doing here. And I think that would change their mind.

"What I'm trying to do is to make a significant difference in space flight, and help make space flight accessible to almost anyone. And I would hope for as much support in that direction as we, as we can receive."

Despite criticism from his heroes, Musk isn't giving up. He has poured $100 million into SpaceX and received a contract worth up to $1.6 billion with NASA. Musk said he would have to die or become completely incapacitated to ever give up on commercializing space.

Musk was happy to show Pelley around the factory, where Pelley was able to see the Dragon cargo capsule up close. The Dragon is expected to conduct an unmanned demonstration flight to the ISS on April 30, and if it's successful, SpaceX will be the first private company to dock at the ISS. The flight was originally set for February, but with so much riding on this launch, SpaceX decided to take its time and make sure all would go well when the time came.

But unmanned cargo deliveries aren't the only plans SpaceX has for Dragon. Pelley noticed that there are windows in the Dragon, which Musk said was for astronauts to see through. He said the Dragon was intended for manned missions and expects SpaceX to be the first private company to launch an American astronaut into space.

SpaceX Dragon Crew Vehicle [Source: SpaceX]

Musk's vision even extends beyond that. He wants to help humans settle on other planets like Mars at some point.

"I think it's important that humanity become a multi-planet species," said Musk. "I think most people would agree that a future where we are a space-faring civilization is inspiring and exciting compared with one where we are forever confined to Earth until some eventual extinction event. That's really why I started SpaceX."

SpaceX seems to be on its way, and despite the stones thrown from his heroes and the fact that SpaceX seems to be the underdog, Musk fully believes his company will be the one to make spaceflight a reality for America again.

"It's like a little kid fighting a bunch of sumo wrestlers," said Musk. "Usually, the sumo wrestlers win. We're a little scrappy company. Every now and again, the little scrappy company wins. And I think this'll be one of those times."

Sources: SpaceX, CBS News

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RE: Priorities
By bobsmith1492 on 3/19/2012 2:33:50 PM , Rating: 2
My quibble is "The space program in general has tuned out to be an extremely bad return on investment."

The space program from the '50s has brought so much incredible innovation it's amazing to hear you say it's a bad investment. Technology advancements typically are the best economic driver from an overall economic development perspective.

RE: Priorities
By Quadrillity on 3/19/2012 3:25:07 PM , Rating: 2
I would say that the breakthroughs since then have been comparatively dismal. During that time, however, NASA research brought some really great stuff to society. There have been some really nice advances since then, but the vast majority of those do not make their way to the general public for one reason: cost. To me that is pretty much worthless.

I see it as (exaggerated): "WOW! We made a battery that can power a small town for a year on a single charge... but it costs one trillion dollars when scaled."

I guess my skepticism has been brought by the same scenario with hydrogen fuel cells. For decades we (a collective of research around the world) have been throwing billions at making a hydrocel that is 1) economic and 2) functional for as long as today's fossil fuel cars. To this day, the private sector and the government research sector has no clue how to make this happen yet. We should keep trying, don't get me wrong! But I think our interests are best served in the private sector where we KNOW for fact that innovation costs less, comes quicker, and is overall better for society.

You might convince me better if NASA suddenly hits a major breakthrough tomorrow that essentially breaks us from foreign oil dependence. Until then, I see don't see the justified cost.

RE: Priorities
By mmatis on 3/19/2012 3:41:59 PM , Rating: 2
You might want to look at all the new drugs that have been developed since the late 90s. Understand that they were made possible by electrophoresis which is used to separate proteins which are associated with each malady. Note that electrophoresis was going nowhere until J&J started flying their Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System (CFES) as shuttle middeck experiments. Results obtained from those tests enabled the drug manufacturers to make electrophoresis work in 1G, and the drug explosion quickly followed. So tell those whose diseases were untreatable up to about 10 years ago that "...breakthroughs since then have been comparatively dismal..."

RE: Priorities
By Quadrillity on 3/19/2012 3:55:25 PM , Rating: 3
Thanks for the example. I can't see why so many people are responding back with hate rants rather than actually answering my honest questions.

I still have to wonder though, could that particular breakthrough be made without proxy research from NASA? Such question cannot be answered (since no-one owns a time machine or crystal ball), but maybe you see the point of my questions.

RE: Priorities
By mmatis on 3/19/2012 4:23:30 PM , Rating: 1
Again, the drug companies understood that proteins held the key to cures for many diseases, and had been trying for years to get electrophoresis to work in 1G. The experiment they flew required interaction in flight, and would not have been possible otherwise.

Also note that corporations have to satisfy their shareholders with their research funding. As a result, the event horizon for profitability from research has to be no more than 5 to 10 years, or at most 15 with an exceptionally promising idea. NASA and the other government research agencies do the long range research beyond that event horizon which private entities will not fund, but without which many of the world's great advances would not exist. Because of that, the benefits of NASA research are not generally seen by the public. In the CFES example, McDonnell Douglas and J&J provided the flight hardware for the experiment, while NASA provided the ride to space. Astronaut Charles Walker:
was a McDonnell Douglas employee who flew as a payload specialist after the initial flight of the payload.

RE: Priorities
By nafhan on 3/19/2012 8:35:03 PM , Rating: 2
You can be fairly certain that without basic "unprofitable" research by universities, NASA, etc. Much of the technology that we enjoy today would not exist. Exactly which technologies and how much such a nebulous concept is actually worth is (as you mentioned) impossible to pin down.

As far as "people responding with hate rants", that's probably because you called science that's not immediately monetizable worthless - on technology blog. :)

RE: Priorities
By stromgald30 on 3/20/2012 5:43:51 AM , Rating: 2
Scratch resistant coatings on eye glasses and UV protective coatings on sun glasses were both invented by NASA in the 60s and 70s. The technology was commercialized when NASA licensed them out to various companies.

A more recent example of NASA innovation being commercialized is in hip implants, which originally had a short life span (would crack/break down after ~5 years) in the 90s. NASA had a special metal hardening technique they developed for jet engine components in the late 90s. The technology was licensed out to a small biotech company that used it to extend hip implant life to >50 years.

There are plenty of examples if you take the time to really look.

RE: Priorities
By pfd on 3/20/2012 8:14:33 AM , Rating: 2
I can say with some confidence that CFE has had basically zero contribution to any marketed drug. McDD had intended it to be used to purify a hormone, EPO, from human kidney cell cultures. This hormone is now produced from genetically engineered microbes (yeast, I think), which produce it in high enough concentration that no microgravity separation would be needed.

Microgravity crystallization of proteins, another much ballyhooed technology, has also not led to any new drug. Ditto for all other attempts at microgravity exploitation.

The rule of thumb is to take any claims about commercial spinoffs, scale them down by several orders of magnitude, and then be very skeptical about the even that residue. It's a field for shysters, frauds and the hopelessly gullible.

RE: Priorities
By Jedi2155 on 3/21/2012 12:05:21 AM , Rating: 2
I'm right there with you regarding Fuel Cells. Awesome technology in concept "Only emission is water, hydrogen being the most plentiful element in the universe!?!" How could you not buy that?

Then you learn about all the hurdles about it....I am actually strongly against hydrogen fuel cells as a vehicle fuel. Having personally driven a fuel cell vehicle for thousands of miles (and having had them break down on me a dozen or so times), I think the hurdles are far too great, to be overcome when they is a much more promising technology nearing mass acceptance, which is the pure battery EV.

The ONLY benefit I see with fuel cell's over EV's, is the fast fill time, but just about every other aspect about it is worse imo. Cost, range, wells to wheel efficiency, durability, and infrastructure are just so under developed and cost so much that it can't compare.

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