Earlier this month, aerospace company Space X launched a heavy-duty rocket carrying a red sports car into space. The cherry-red Tesla Roadster - which played David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ on a loop - was watched by 2.3 million people on the company’s live stream on YouTube.
The man behind this meticulously planned insanity is Elon Musk, the boyish tech leader who is single-handedly ushering private enterprise into new and exciting realities.
Speaking to the BBC after the ‘Falcon Heavy’ launch, the South African billionaire commented that the launch of the sports car was “…kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important.”
Musk’s enthusiasm and irreverence towards goals that many have called impossible are refreshing in a world that often feels bleak and uninspiring. His drive to propel humanity forward is countered by a goofiness that many young people find compelling (days prior to the Falcon Heavy launch, seemingly on a whim, Musk sold 20,000 flamethrowers at $500 a piece).
Ever since he sold PayPal for $1.5bn back in 2002, Musk has defied industry expectations. His investment in the electric car company Tesla should have seen him smeared and battered by the oil industry, but his forward-thinking and innovative approach to battery technology saw Tesla blossom into a wildly successful venture.
More recently, his experimental ‘Hyperloop’ - an electromagnetic transport system, an idea seemingly torn straight out of a 60s sci-fi novel - is in its early developmental stages. If successful, the Hyperloop will transport passengers between destinations at an incredible 1223km (760 miles) per hour. That's pretty cool.
His end goal, however, is to establish a permanent Human colony on Mars, and British ISS astronaut, Tim Peak, seems to think private enterprises like Space X are now up to the challenge: “we have seen the ambitions of people like Elon Musk - there are several other companies that also have ambitions to send people to Mars”, and “the late 2030s would be a realistic time frame.”
This decade, we’ve seen an explosion in the number of colourful and imaginative science fiction & fantasy films on our screens. From the utterly bonkers ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ to the upbeat potato farming (well, kind of) of ‘The Martian’, science fiction is making advancements in space travel seem almost inevitable.
TV shows like Black Mirror are also acting as cool, cautionary parables in much the same way that folktales like The Brothers Grimm used to. Whether due to a modern thirst for escapism or as a direct reaction to our increasingly alien modern world - sci-fi is more popular than ever.
Also, real-life viral events such as Felix Baumgartner’s famous 2012 space jump and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s stint on the ISS are demonstrating a growing appetite for all things Space.
Elon Musk seems to understand that bold iconography, like the Tesla Roadster in space, has the potential to capture people’s imaginations. It's cool. And this is something that cannot be underestimated in terms of cultural impact - who knows how many kids will go into the science & tech industries as a direct result of watching the sportscar in space?
Underneath the great PR, the over-promising, and the everyman persona, Elon Musk comes across as a genuine visionary who wants to transform the world we live in for the better. He’s providing a vision for a future that many politicians simply can’t, and he’s having a great time doing it.