Power Players

Elon Musk always thought SpaceX would 'fail' and he'd lose his PayPal millions

Elon Musk speaks onstage on March 11, 2018 in Austin, Texas.
Chris Saucedo | Getty Images | SXSW

With Saturday's successful test launch of the spacecraft SpaceX will use to send humans to space for the first time, SpaceX has already vastly exceeded any expectations Elon Musk had when he founded the aerospace company 17 years ago.

"I always thought we would fail," Musk said of founding SpaceX during a press conference Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "So, this is … it's all upside."

Now, SpaceX is getting closer to becoming the first private American company to put humans in space via a commercial spacecraft. On Saturday, SpaceX launched rocket ship Crew Dragon, unmanned, to deliver 400 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station. If the spacecraft returns to earth safely later this week, it will have been a successful test flight. Manned SpaceX flights to space could reportedly come as soon as July.

But to hear Musk tell it, all of that success is the result of a tremendous gamble. "I thought maybe we had a 10 percent chance of reaching orbit starting out," he said.

Those around Musk were skeptical too. "When we started SpaceX, they said, 'Oh, you are going to fail.' And I said, 'Well, I agree. I think we probably will fail,'" Musk said at the press conference.

"They said I would … lose all the money from PayPal, I was, like, 'Well, you are probably right,'" Musk said.

But "was worth trying anyway," said Musk.

VIDEO1:2601:26
Here's what it will be like to travel to Mars in Elon Musk's spaceship

Musk made "about $200 million" when eBay bought the online payments company he co-founded in 2002 for $1.5 billion, according to a report from The New York Times. He launched SpaceX that same year to make humans a multiplanetary species — starting with putting people in space, then to build a permanent base on the moon and also to transport humans to Mars, which Musk wants to terraform by 2024.

"I really believe in the future of space," Musk said on Saturday. "I think it is important that we become a space-faring civilization and be out there among the stars ... We want the things that are in science fiction novels and movies not be science fiction forever. We want them to be real one day."

Still, those close to Musk tried to talk him out of SpaceX.

"I had so many people try to talk me out of starting a rocket company, it was crazy," Musk told Scott Pelley on CBS's "60 Minutes" in 2014. "One good friend of mine collected a whole series of videos of rockets blowing up and made me watch those. He just didn't want me to lose all my money."

And, frankly, it was a close call. SpaceX's first three rocket launches failed.

"A fourth [rocket launch] failure would have been absolutely game over," Musk said at the International Astronautical Congress conference in 2017. "But fate liked us that day. So, the fourth launch worked."

See also:

Elon Musk remembers the SpaceX of 10 years ago: 'We couldn't even reach orbit with little Falcon 1'

Elon Musk after SpaceX launch: 'To be frank, I am a little emotionally exhausted'

Elon Musk: This is the 'why' of Tesla

VIDEO1:0301:03
Elon Musk remembers the SpaceX of 10 years ago: ‘We couldn’t even reach orbit with little Falcon 1’
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