On Saturday, Elon Musk will make history. Again. This is the man who:
Invented PayPal (and sold it to eBay (EBAY) for $1.5 billion).
Launched the first ever private space vessel to orbit the Earth.
Was the inspiration behind the movie version of Iron Man's billionaire inventor Tony Stark.
On Saturday, he will lead his company, SpaceX, in another historic first, as SpaceX attempts to launch into space a Dragon resupply capsule atop one of its Falcon 9 rockets, then dock it with the International Space Station.
The project is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it's never been done before. A private party has never docked a spaceship with the ISS. As Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert put it recently: "four entities have launched rockets into space: the U.S., China, the Soviet Union [Russia], and Elon Musk."
Second, because if SpaceX succeeds in this effort, it will begin to make good on the $1.6 billion contract it won from NASA four years ago, to run about a dozen resupply missions to the ISS -- relieving NASA of the obligation of having to pay the Russians to lift supplies up to the station, and ensuring SpaceX's survival in the process.
What's It Mean to You?
To taxpayers, though, the most important thing about Saturday's flight is the potential that a successful SpaceX mission holds for lowering the cost of space flight, and getting us more missions per taxpayer dollar.
By SpaceX's estimation, once the company scales up its operations, it should be able to lift cargo into space at a rough cost of about $1,300 per pound lifted. For reference, that's about 50% cheaper than the cheapest state-subsidized space launch today -- and multiples cheaper than the current average cost to launch a rocket into space, which runs anywhere from $4,500 up to $10,000 per pound of cargo delivered. And ultimately, Musk says that getting the price down to $500 per pound or even less is "very achievable."
That's just one more reason that when Falcon 9 is waiting on the launchpad Saturday, we should all be counting down along with it.
Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of General Motors and eBay.
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