Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
SpaceX founder Elon Musk may well be carrying the weight of the entire future of the space program on his back, at least from a consumer PR standpoint. Sure, there are other companies active in commercial space operation, and NASA, as well as other nations’ space programs, are certainly contributing, but no one else in the industry seems capable of capturing headlines, dropping quotes, and blowing minds like Musk.
And he did it again last week. Most of the developed world was watching, in person or online, as SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon Heavy rocket on a trip destined for Mars. Then, as the main rocket soared out of the atmosphere, two of the boosters landed cleanly back on earth, a feat considered impossible not too many years ago.
Prior to the launch, even Musk seemed unsure of its success, telling reporters the launch could very well fail, and that he wasn’t even certain the rocket could make it into orbit. But the company invested heavily into the project anyway, dreaming of success, while preparing for failure. Just prior to the launch, Musk even joked with CNN’s Rachel Crane that the views were hoping to see “either a great rocket launch or the best fireworks display ever…”
When the rocket left the launch pad at NASA’s Cape Canaveral, thousands of onlookers cheered as if they were watching the greatest fireworks show ever. Meanwhile, millions were glued to the livestream, cheering as well. In recent years, no one and no country has reawakened the human interest in space exploration like Musk. The billionaire CEO and innovator understands PR in a way many other competitors do not.
Take, for example, his rocket’s payload, a bright red Tesla roadster. And, in the car, a dummy dressed in a SpaceX space suit. And, on the video screen, a message familiar to anyone who grew up loving space, in reality, or in science fiction: “Don’t Panic.” That homage to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy struck exactly the right chord with millions of viewers who have not been this excited since they watched the Apollo program or the shuttles as children.
Meanwhile, the incredible scientific and engineering feats accomplished were not lost on the crowd either. Sure, SpaceX dropped the center booster in the ocean, but two other boosters touched back down to be used again, a major milestone in reducing the cost of space flight to make it more commercially viable.
After the launch, everyone was talking, everyone celebrating. Most had a single question on their minds: What will Musk and SpaceX think of next?