TIME Elon Musk

Tesla’s Elon Musk Just Had the Worst Birthday Ever

Tesla Elon Musk
Noah Berger—AP Tesla's CEO Elon Musk.

A disastrous weekend for both Tesla and SpaceX

Elon Musk turned 44 on Sunday, but the entrepreneur probably wished he could just crawl back into bed and forget the day ever happened.

It was, to be frank, a disastrous weekend for both Tesla and SpaceX, the two companies Musk leads.

First, the biggie: an unmanned SpaceX rocket on a resupply mission to the International Space Station exploded after it was launched. No one was hurt, and the astronauts on board the Space Station have enough supplies to last until October, but the Falcon 9 rocket that was destroyed represents a lot of lost capital, and it’s always embarrassing for an aerospace company when a craft just, well, explodes.

In news that was slightly less spectacular, but still troubling, reports say Musk said Tesla owners weren’t using the battery swap technology he debuted in 2013. While this doesn’t have quite the visual impact of an exploding rocket, it’s still not good news for a service that Musk and other Tesla execs hoped would help show consumers that electric cars, like Teslas, can be taken on longer trips with minimal wait time.

Musk himself admitted to having a bad day:

We hope your Independence Day weekend is better, Elon.

TIME A Year In Space

How Serious a Setback Is the SpaceX Rocket Explosion?

A dramatic accident just minutes after launch could mean problems for the International Space Station

There are uncountable laws of physics and engineering that govern the launch of a rocket. But there’s one that supersedes them all: Ultimately, stuff will blow up. Always has, always will.

Elon Musk had never come face to face with that rule before — at least not in space travel — but Sunday morning he did in a very big way, when his Falcon 9 rocket and unmanned Dragon cargo vehicle exploded just two and a half minutes after launch. The rocket came undone before its first stage had even shut down and separated, blowing itself to pieces and auguring into the Atlantic just off the Cape Canaveral coast.

NASA, as NASA does, initially framed the failure as clinically as possible, describing it as a “non-nominal” liftoff. But NASA administrator Charles Bolden later described the agency as “disappointed” by the loss of the mission. “We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight,” he said. “This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback.”

Musk himself was more candid, if a little oblique:

But the most poignant and most apt response came from astronaut Scott Kelly, currently completing the third month of his marathon year aboard the International Space Station:

And so space is—very, very hard, and it’s the International Space Station (ISS) that has recently been paying the price. In April, a Russian Progress cargo vehicle carrying thousands of pounds of equipment and supplies reached orbit but spun out of control and eventually plunged back through the atmosphere, incinerating itself and its cargo. In October 2014, an Antares rocket—built by Musk’s cargo competitor Orbital Sciences—exploded just six seconds off the pad.

But it’s the SpaceX explosion that will prove the most costly. The key piece of cargo the now-destroyed Dragon was carrying was the first of a pair of International Docking Adapters (IDA) that was supposed to connect to the station’s Harmony module and serve as the attachment node for private crew vehicles that are scheduled to begin flying in 2017. Two companies won the contracts to build the new craft—SpaceX, which is modifying its Dragon craft to make it habitable; and Boeing, which is building a new vehicle dubbed the CST-100. Boeing built the lost IDA as well, but both companies are designing their craft to be compatible with it.

How big a setback this will be to the future of station operations is not clear. The current three-person crew—which will increase to six when the next expedition launches from Kazakhstan in July—is in no danger of running out of essential supplies like food, water and breathable oxygen. But luxuries like personal packages from family members and perishables like fresh fruit can make it aboard only as often as the cargo runs succeed.

The docking adapter is another matter, however. One of the biggest action items on the astronauts’ to-do-list for the next few months is reconfiguring ISS’s various modules to ready the station for the new crew vehicles. Kelly and soon-to-arrive crewmate Kjell Lindgren will be embarking on their first spacewalks to help get that job done. Without the IDA, however, the work can only proceed so far.

Worse, the Obama White House and NASA itself have bet their space reps on NASA’s ability to make a smooth transition to private suppliers for trips to low Earth orbit, freeing the space agency to focus on unmanned missions to the planets and, eventually, manned trips to deep space. Serial failures by Orbital Sciences and SpaceX do not do much to boost confidence in that plan.

Geopolitics play a role too. American leverage in the increasingly strained relationship between Washington and Moscow has not been helped by the fact that, since the grounding of the shuttles, the U.S. has been entirely dependent on the Russian Soyuz rocket to carry astronauts to space.

In response to the U.S. and European measures to clamp down on Russian banking and overseas assets in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin snarkily Tweeted, “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

Rogozin was bluffing. Russia charges the U.S. more than $70 million per seat for trips on the Soyuz and a cash-poor Kremlin is not inclined to say no to the ready pocket money. But it was galling at least for the U.S., and nobody in Washington or at NASA wants America’s dependency on the Russians to go on any longer than it absolutely has to go.

That, however, is for tomorrow. Today, Musk, who is experiencing his first major launch failure, must dig into his telemetry and the remains of his rocket and see what in the world went wrong. He’s not the first to have to conduct such a post-flight autopsy and he won’t be the last. Space is always hard—and on some days it’s too hard.

TIME Innovation

NASA Is Sending Microsoft’s Most Incredible New Tech Into Space

HoloLens is now literally out of this world

NASA will launch two Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality headsets into space, the agency revealed on Thursday. They’re headed to the final frontier in order to bolster communications between astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and technicians back on earth.

The devices are slated to launch on a June 28 SpaceX resupply mission to the ISS.

NASA is touting the HoloLens’ interactive 3D interface as an effective way to replace verbal instructions with holographic illustrations that can overlay directly onto an astronaut’s surroundings.

“HoloLens and other virtual and mixed reality devices are cutting edge technologies that could help drive future exploration and provide new capabilities to the men and women conducting critical science on the International Space Station,” said ISS Program Director Sam Scimemi in a statement.

NASA released footage of Microsoft’s HoloLens team, including lead designer Alex Kipman, giving the HoloLens a spin (literally) aboard NASA’s Weightless Wonder C9 jet. The space agency estimates that after an extended round of testing, astronauts will be able to use the HoloLens by the end of the year.

The partnership between NASA and Microsoft’s HoloLens team, dubbed Project Sidekick, will be extended to a second test under the water on July 21, when NASA astronauts and engineers will bring the HoloLens down to the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius. The two week trial is meant to simulate an extended mission into deep space.

“Sidekick is a prime example of an application for which we envisioned HoloLens being used – unlocking new potential for astronauts and giving us all a new perspective on what is possible with holographic computing,” said HoloLens designer Kipman in a statement.

TIME space travel

Watch Explosive New Video of SpaceX’s Rocket Landing Test

The April test ended unsuccessfully

SpaceX on Thursday released new video of an April landing test of the Falcon 9 rocket that nearly ended in success — until it tipped over and exploded.

Unlike previous footage, this video comes from a tracking camera that followed the first stage Falcon 9, or the part of the rocket that detaches from the cargo vessel bound for the International Space Station, according to SpaceX. A rocket’s first stage normally falls back into the ocean — a harmless but expensive loss. If the Falcon 9 could land successfully, it would mark a huge step towards SpaceX’s goal of more efficient spaceflight.

Another landing test is scheduled for June 28 shortly after the Falcon 9 launches at 10:21 a.m. ET from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The event is subject to weather and other delays.

TIME SpaceX

Elon Musk Wants to Build the Comcast of Outer Space

Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk Unveils New Generation Of Batteries
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Elon Musk

It wouldn't be the first attempt

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has ambitions beyond space travel.

The company has lofty ambitions that would provide Internet to all corners of the world from space.

The Washington Post reports that Musk has been in talks with the federal government to get permission to launch 4,000 satellites with the capacity to beam Internet signals to Earth. If the plan works, SpaceX could set itself up in direct competition with telecom giants such as Comcast and AT&T.

It “would be like rebuilding the Internet in space,” Musk has said of the project, according to the newspaper.

But this isn’t the first or only venture of its kind. The publication reported that Bill Gates had a similar idea in the 1990s, and Richard Branson’s Virgin has its own plan in the works; Facebook recently shelved a project to build a $500 million satellite.

Musk’s FCC filing shows that he’d like to begin testing his satellite plan as early as next year, according to the newspaper.

“Some people might say the idea of satellite broadband has come and gone. But the cost structure of the business is so much better than when Bill Gates tried it,” said Paul Gallant, an analyst at Guggenheim Partners, in an interview with the Post. “I think Musk’s track record of disruptive innovation would make this a really attractive business for the . . . FCC to support.”

TIME Tesla

Here’s How You Can Play a PC Game Elon Musk Wrote When He Was 12

Elon Musk

It's pretty simple, but it's also more than 30 years old

Elon Musk is most famous these days for his electric car company Tesla, and for the spaceships he created with his private spaceflight company SpaceX. When the inventor was much younger, though, he tried his hand at creating video games.

At age 12, as a kid living in South Africa, Musk created Blastar — a space-themed PC game that is heavily influenced by classic arcade games such as Space Invaders and Asteroid, according to The Verge. You play the game as a space pilot who has to “destroy [the] alien freighter carrying deadly hydrogen bombs and status beam machines.”

Musk sold the code for $500, and now you can play it here.

TIME SpaceX

SpaceX Has a Radical New Invention Idea

The company has filed an application for satellites that would beam down Internet access

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is planning a new network of satellites, and they’ll come with an interesting function: an Internet connection.

According to an application filed with the FCC last week and first spotted by a Reddit user, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based space company wants to launch a network of satellites that will beam down Internet access to regions with little or no connection to the web.

The application describes two satellites, the first of up to eight trial satellites that are each expected to last up to 12 months.

The satellites will likely be built using the $1 billion that SpaceX raised mostly from Google earlier this year.

For these first tests, the launch location will likely be Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast rather than Cape Canaveral in Florida, according to the orbital parameters in the application.

The test satellites will beam Internet broadband to three locations: Redmond, Wash., (as Musk has said he wants to build satellites and plan launches in Seattle); Fremont, Calif., where Musk’s Tesla factory is located; and Hawthone, Calif., which is SpaceX’s hometown.

Whether we’ll truly be able to connect to a SpaceX-provided Internet connection someday (it will likely take a long time before that gets approved) is still unclear. But Musk has said in the past that he believes such a communication system will be necessary for travel to Mars, his ultimate goal for SpaceX.

TIME Companies

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Is About to Tap a Huge New Market

Elon Musk SpaceX Dragon
Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduces SpaceX's Dragon V2 spacecraft, the company's next generation version of the Dragon ship designed to carry astronauts into space, at a press conference in Hawthorne, Calif. on May 29, 2014.

It'll take on Boeing and Lockheed

The U.S. Air Force certified SpaceX to launch satellites for the Pentagon, it was announced Tuesday.

This is significant news for Elon Musk’s 13-year-old aerospace company, which has long been involved in a court case over certification from the Pentagon. As the Washington Post reports, obtaining Pentagon certification means SpaceX can compete with United Launch Alliance, a joint space venture formed in 2006 by Lockheed Martin and Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

ULA provides launch services to government entities like NASA and the Department of Defense—customers SpaceX also wants to service.

The certification process began when SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force in April of last year, arguing its bidding process for awarding contracts to launch Pentagon satellites had turned ULA into an unfair monopoly. (In 2012, the Air Force awarded 36 launches to ULA, which was the only contractor certified to launch under the EELV, or Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.) Musk framed the lawsuit as a broader effort to get future launches reopened to widespread competition.

The suit was a rare and risky example of a company suing the organization that would be its biggest customer if it won the suit. In January of this year, SpaceX dropped the lawsuit and the certification process began.

Now Musk has earned what he sought—the right to compete. It’s a big win for Musk and SpaceX, which last year won a contract to fly astronauts to NASA’s International Space Station. In a statement about earning Pentagon certification, Musk said it is an “important step.”

He’s not the only one that thinks so. The news is getting big reactions from major names in the defense industry. Republican Senator John McCain, for instance, said in a statement: “The certification of SpaceX as a provider for defense space launch contracts is a win for competition . . . I am hopeful that this and other new competition will help to bring down launch costs and end our reliance on Russian rocket engines that subsidizes Vladimir Putin and his cronies.”

Read next: Watch What It’s Like to Get Blasted to 100MPH in 1.2 Seconds

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME innovations

Watch What It’s Like to Get Blasted to 100MPH in 1.2 Seconds

We'd almost definitely vomit

If you ever wondered what it’s like to get blasted off a launch pad going at 100 miles per hour, this SpaceX video does the trick.

The video, posted Friday, shows point-of-view footage of SpaceX’s May 6 pad abort test of its Crew Dragon vehicle. Essentially, the private space company, headed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, was testing a system that could safely eject astronauts aboard a just-launched rocket should anything go wrong.

The Dragon vehicle reached 100mph in 1.2 seconds, before topping out at a peak velocity of 345mph.

“The successful Pad Abort Test was the first flight test of SpaceX’s revolutionary launch abort system, and the data captured here will be critical in preparing Crew Dragon for its first human missions in 2017,” SpaceX wrote following the successful test.

In March, SpaceX launched the world’s first completely electric satellites into space.

TIME space

SpaceX Invites You to Mars With These Throwback Travel Posters

The space transportation company makes light of its ambitions to take humans to Mars

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com