Things Elon Musk Will Never Tell You About SpaceX

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SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk and has since become one of the most powerful and significant space companies in the world, gaining worldwide notoriety as the only private company capable of returning a spacecraft from low Earth orbit. SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station and in May 2020, SpaceX achieved the first commercial space flight.

SpaceX has unquestionably had a great deal of success, particularly in recent years — however, some aspects of the company do not have such a stellar public reputation. Musk has become quite the controversial figure over the years thanks to some contentious public appearances, strange business dealings, and bizarre social media behavior. Musk has been known to be very outspoken, though there are some details about SpaceX that he doesn't shout about from the rooftops. Here are just a few examples.

Elon Musk founded SpaceX after an unpleasant incident in Russia

Lori Garver, a former Deputy Administrator at NASA, revealed in her autobiography "Escape from Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age" an interesting incident Elon Musk had in Russia which apparently inspired one of the richest men in the world to found SpaceX. Musk was in Russia to negotiate the purchase of some rockets for a future project, something that was confirmed by SpaceX co-founder Jim Cantrell. During the negotiations, the leading designer of the Russian National Space Agency got so annoyed with the way the meeting was going that he literally spat at Elon Musk's shoes.

As a result of the awkward encounter, Musk did not work out a deal with the Russian National Space Agency to purchase the rockets after all. According to Garver's autobiography, on the way home from Russia, Musk decided he wouldn't need to buy Russian rockets when he could just build his own. She jokes that if Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships, then that meeting had the spit that launched a thousand spaceships. Less than 12 months after this meeting, SpaceX was formed.

SpaceX launches are horrible for the environment

SpaceX's maiden launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket was an incredible moment in human history. It was the first time a private company had ever sent a rocket so large into space and the Falcon Heavy certainly is a big one, with a mass of 3132301.366 pounds. The rocket on February 18, 2018, lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and it was crowned as the most powerful rocket in the world at that time.

A rocket so large means that SpaceX is responsible for releasing a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the environment. The Falcon Heavy has launched a total of five times since its initial take-off, each with similar specs. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has launched an incredible 215 times since its initial launch in 2010. The Falcon 9 has a mass of 1210456.87 pounds and each launch takes up an incredible amount of power. SpaceX does a lot of launches these days and each launch is a reminder of just how damaging space exploration can be to the environment.

The Space X launch site threatens wildlife

SpaceX has a launch site just off the Gulf of Mexico along the Boca Chica coastline. At a press conference in 2018, Elon Musk said he chose that site due to its immense amount of open, unpopulated land, which minimizes threat to people and when something blows up, Musk stated that it "looks cool," according to The Guardian. His comments sparked outrage from activists as the launch site is not the carefree wasteland Musk says it is, as the site is encircled by state and federally protected lands.

The director of the non-profit Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries, David Newstead, told The Guardian in 2021 that he feels sick looking at the fireballs from the SpaceX launchpad, noting that he thought government agencies would better regulate the process. The explosions from the launch site scatter debris from the launches over the delicate ecosystem of the surrounding area, a site that comprises a huge amount of wildlife spanning beaches, grasslands, coastal dunes, and tidal flats.

SpaceX employees consider Elon Musk a distraction

In 2022, a number of SpaceX employees derided Elon Musk for his public behavior by labeling him as a "distraction and an embarrassment" in an internal letter to SpaceX executives. Musk has been in the headlines a lot over the years for his outspoken views on social media, something which was put even more to the forefront during the SpaceX founder's purchase of Twitter. As published by, the letter makes for damning reading. The letter claims that Musk's public behavior is seen as a distraction and an embarrassment to them and it is very important that his messaging does not reflect the values of those who work at SpaceX. The employees were worried that as Musk is the CEO of SpaceX that every tweet Musk sends out is seen as a public statement from the company. The letter was signed by at least 400 SpaceX employees and was said to be collaborated on by employees of all genders and ethnicities as well as those in various levels of seniority.

Former Space X employees have filed labor law complaints

It was discovered that several SpaceX employees were fired as a result of the internal letter critical of Elon Musk, as the New York Times reported. As a result of their firing, the former employees have filed labor law complaints against the company, alleging that SpaceX fired them for participating in "concerted protected activities." Two of the former employees went on record, a lead avionics operations and automation engineer named Paige Holland-Thielen, and a senior engineer named Tom Moline. In a statement, Holland-Thielen said that she had witnessed deep cultural problems within SpaceX and is aware of her colleagues going through similar experiences. Moline claimed that SpaceX turns a blind eye to the abuse his colleagues had reported and blamed Elon Musk directly for cultivating such an environment. Moline has hopes that these labor law complaints will empower other SpaceX employees to speak up in the future.

China is simulating a nuclear blast capable of taking out Space X satellites

A Chinese military study published in May 2022 claimed that satellite networks like SpaceX's Starlink communication network is a potential threat to Chinese national security. As of March 2023, Starlink has 3,660 small satellites in low Earth orbit and the study published by the Chinese military has advised for the development of ways to disable the Starlink satellite network.

China's military researchers fear that the Starlink satellites could provide communication services to China's rivals as well as acting a suicide agents with the potential of crashing into China's own satellites, possibly disabling China's space infrastructure during a war. Chinese researchers developed a simulation with a great amount of accuracy evaluating the performance of nuclear anti-satellite weapons from different altitudes and yields. The results suggest a 10-megaton warhead would create a serious threat to the satellites if detonated at an altitude of 80km. The simulation however does not mean that China will act on it. A Beijing-based space scientist told Business Insider that international laws has banned the use of such weapons in both space and in the atmosphere, in any case.

SpaceX satellites can cause problems in spite of Musk's claims they don't

Astronomers have called for the ban on mega constellations of low-altitude satellites, like SpaceX's Starlink network. Starlink has proved controversial during it's lifetime and as of March 2023 has 3,660 mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit. Astronomers consider Starlink a problem as the many satellites have been known to leave streaks across images of space. Piero Benvenuti, the International Astronomical Union's General Secretary, told The Daily Mail that these constellations of satellites are the biggest threat facing modern astronomy. Another main concern astronomers have is that the number of satellites in low Earth orbit are causing a night sky brightness which could potentially make it more difficult to see faint astrophysical signals from outer space.

SpaceX is a main contributor to the number of satellites in the sky and has no plans to slow down. There are many who would like the limit the number of satellites in the sky. Fabio Falchi of the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute says there should be a limit on the number of satellites in the sky and believes there are already too many up there.

Musk's Twitter behaviour causing problems in SpaceX's relationship with NASA

Elon Musk's outspoken nature on social media, something that has become more and more prevalent upon his purchase of social media giant Twitter, has received a great amount of backlash from the public. That backlash has also been affecting Musk's companies and their relationships, surveys by the Morning Consult revealed that the approval ratings of Tesla, Twitter, and SpaceX have all taken a hit since Elon Musk announced his offer to buy Twitter in April 2022.

At a press conference in December 2022, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he had expressed his concerns about Elon Musk to SpaceX president and Chief Operating Officer, Gwynne Shotwell. Recalling a conversation he had with Shotwell, Nelson said he had asked Shotwell directed if Musk on Twitter is going to affect SpaceX. Nelson says he trusts Shotwell implicitly and any concern he had was shot down when she replied that he had nothing to worry about.