Los Angeles is a remarkably versatile city. While beautiful bodies fill beaches within a stones throw of stars of the silver screen and the towering Hollywood sign, there is a deeper perhaps more historically significant movement underway. A hope for the future that stretches from the wide, sun-burnt California avenues to the coldest depths of space. Fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene, the new gold rush is here.
SpaceX, nestled between Dr. Dre’s Inglewood and the weightlifters of Redondo Beach, is on a mission to colonize Mars. A long and multifaceted series of hurdles lie between Elon Musk, founder and CEO, and that Asimovian goal. Thanks to a friend cranking out designs to improve the structural integrity of rockets, engines, and boosters I was able to take a glimpse inside the rocket factory.
Unlike any Costco You’ve Seen Before
Beside the Hawthorne Municipal Airport and its never ending stream of prop and jet-powered planes making their final approach is the SpaceX headquarters. Officially located on 1 Rocket Road, the complex is a gigantic operation turning out the most futuristic space vehicles ever conceived. Entering the highly reflective front doors you’re greeted with a slick yet surprisingly open floor plan that suggests this, dear friends, is where we will create The Future. After proving our United States citizenship (foreigners are currently barred from working at the company due to existing Defense Department regulations) we met our smiling SpaceX whiz-kid and tour guide, Mikko Solomon. Casually dressed and slightly afro’d, this MIT alum and ex-airplane mechanic from Davis, California is the face of the rocket revolution. He grins as we stride by an Iron Man suit and sign reading “Cyberdyne Systems.” Stepping onto the main construction floor you’re immediately struck by your own sense of insignificance. Towering rockets, launch vehicles, and next-generation engines, all in states of partial construction, are arranged in what can only be described as the most interesting Costco in the world.
With today’s Made-In-China ethos, it’s quite a sight to behold a large-scale construction project happening within our own borders. SpaceX designs and manufactures almost everything in-house, from aluminum alloy spacecraft capable of carrying 7 people plus cargo into orbit to reusable launch vehicles able to enter space and then gracefully land upon re-entry, a feat never before achieved in the history of spaceflight. Dovetailing the realization of scale comes an unexpected sense of pride – something my generation seems cruelly denied following repeated regrets around failed wars, overreaching spy programs, and secret prisons. SpaceX hints at a new reality, not distinctly American but deeply intertwined with the American Dream: attainable space travel, a journey into the final frontier, and a possible escape from self-destruction.
There is a grand revolution happening in California and I cannot wait to see where it will lead.