I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Elon Musk would be here to give a lecture at Virginia Tech. He was here last week, for a few hours on February 21. His lecture was the second in a series sponsored by our distinguised alumnus Dr. Pat Artis, and his wife Nancy. The first in that series was in February 2005, and the lecture was given by Commander Brian Binnie. I discussed Commander Binnie’s lecture here.
Mr. Musk was here for dinner at Virginia Tech’s Inn. The 40 guests at the dinner included various Deans, Department Heads, and staff from the College Engineering, as well about half a dozen engineering undergraduate students. During the reception before dinner, I had a chance to chat briefly with Mr. Musk, discussing Falcon 1 and its payload FalconSat-2, built by cadets at the USAF Academy, under the supervision of some of my former USAF colleagues and students.
After dinner, we made our way over to Burruss Hall where the auditorium was set up for Mr. Musk’s presentation. The auditorium seats over 2000, but was probably less than half full. By contrast, Binnie’s talk filled the auditorium; however, the reason for the difference in attendance is almost certainly because all engineering freshmen were required to attend Binnie’s talk, and for some reason the same requirement was not imposed for Musk’s talk.
After introductions, Mr. Musk began his 30-minute powerpoint presentation, in which he described how SpaceX got started, what lines of rockets were in development, and what he expected regarding the upcoming launch. I especially liked his line about making “the human race multi-planetary.” The best part of his talk was when he invited questions, and there were many. I didn’t take notes, but I recall the gist of a few of the questions: What kind of car does a guy like you drive? Will you sell launches to foreign agencies? Can you describe your pre-SpaceX business experiences? How did you recruit the ~175 people who work for SpaceX. What are your plans for human spaceflight systems? What’s going on with SpaceX, Lockheed-Martin, and Boeing? What could Lockheed-Martin and Boeing do to be competitive with SpaceX?
As I said, the Q&A was the most interesting part of the talk, and it went on for more than half an hour. Some of the questions were asked by a reporter for the campus paper, who had interviewed me earlier in the day. Amusingly, the reporter’s article referred to me as Professor Charles Hill. Well, at least some of the letters were correct.