Elon Musk’s agonies and ecstasies have been widely recounted over the years, most notably in the 2015 biography of Ashlee Vance as well as in books on the race to privatize space travel by Christian Davenport and Tim Fernholz. . Two new books, both written with Musk’s cooperation, now deepen our appreciation for his accomplishments by showing how Musk’s success comes from his deep understanding of the physics and technology behind his products. “Liftoff,” by Ars Technica space writer Eric Berger, is a colorful page turner that focuses on the ups and downs of SpaceX’s early years. “Power play, “ by Wall Street Journal reporter Tim Higgins, is an in-depth and savvy chronicle of Tesla’s wild ride from the launch of the premium Roadster in 2009 to the Model S luxury sedan, and then the Model 3, which is now the world’s best -selling electric car. Musk fans as well as his growing legion of reluctant admirers should read the books in tandem, as the parallel narratives combine to convey the depths of Musk’s interwoven passions to save the planet and colonize Mars.
The transition to electric cars
At the height of Tesla’s financial troubles in late 2008, Musk decided to double down. He personally borrowed money to keep the business afloat and pushed his investors to match it. When they reluctantly agreed, he burst into tears. “His whole fortune was now at stake,” writes Higgins. “From the depths of the Great Recession, it had done something that other American automakers were unable to do: avoid bankruptcy. “
At the same time, he decides to move forward at SpaceX. He called the company’s employees together and said they had the components for a fourth attempt. “We have another rocket,” he told them. “Go back to the island and launch it in six weeks.”
On the morning of September 28, 2008, Musk went with his brother and their children to Disneyland, where they rode, in a fitting metaphor, the Space Mountain roller coaster. Then he ran to SpaceX headquarters to take a seat in the command van. For more than nine minutes, he and his team watched on monitors as the rocket took off without a hitch, the second stage came off without a hitch, and finally the payload went into orbit. In the factory, more than 100 employees started jumping and screaming for joy. Their business had been saved and private spaceflight was to become a reality. Then Musk stepped forward and reminded them that there was still work to be done. “This is only the first step among many,” he said.
At the same time, Musk’s chief automotive designer was preparing to go to work in a corner of the SpaceX factory, under a white tent referred to as the Tesla Zone. Musk had ordered him to produce a prototype of the Model S, a fully electric luxury sedan that would make or destroy his business. In March 2009, Musk got to drive the sleek prototype onto the SpaceX factory floor at a celebrity-packed gala launch party. As the crowd cheered and the music exploded, Musk announced, “You’re looking at what will be the world’s first mass-produced electric car.”