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Ex-NASA Official: Elon Musk started SpaceX after Russian engineer spat on him

This week, retired NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver described the encounter that gave entrepreneur Elon Musk the idea for SpaceX. It turns out that he made the intriguing decision to launch his own space company after a Russian engineer spat on him in 2001. In his June 21 book “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age,” Garver discussed the specific incident.

Elon was so deeply outraged by this behavior that, according to Garver, he planned to create his own rocket firm to compete with them on the voyage home. “This was the spit that launched a thousand spacecraft if Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships.” The NASA employee’s book details the commercialization of the US space industry during her time serving as NASA’s Deputy Administrator during the Obama Administration. In 2002, she first spoke with the current CEO of SpaceX when they spoke about how reliant NASA was on Russia.

Clearly, Garver is not the first person to discuss this specific Musk episode. Jim Cantrell, a co-founder of SpaceX, noticed in May of this year how poorly the Russians handled Musk. During this time, Musk sent him to Moscow to negotiate the acquisition of space rockers for a future voyage that might carry mice or plants to Mars.

CANTRELL SAID IN A CHANNEL 4 DOCUMENTARY THAT AIRED IN MAY, “THE CHIEF DESIGNER WAS GETTING VERY AGITATED AS ELON SPOKE.” He said, “The Chief Designer became tired of hearing him and he spat on our shoes.

Cantrell asserts that Musk’s casual attire was likely seen by the Russians as a sign of “disrespect.” Additionally, Garver detailed in the book how employees at NASA and the White House regularly suffered from the billionaire’s “disrupter mindset” and “lack of regard” for “established industry”.

Cantrell similarly detailed the incident, claiming that Musk was mistreated by the Russians over many talks in Moscow. In contrast, the Russians were more interested in social events, while Musk preferred to concentrate on business. The co-founder stated how Musk and himself were seen as “not credible” by the Russians.

He said specifically that the head designer spits on them because he thought they were “full of crap.” Finally, the now-billionaire and the Russians were unable to come to an agreement on a price, and as the book said, the billionaire “stormed out of the conference.”

On the way home, Musk did, however, eventually get the thought to create his own space rockets, according to Cantrell. After almost a year, SpaceX, then known as “Space Exploration Technologies Corporation,” was established and quickly became one of the most valuable companies. The business carried out the world’s first all-civilian orbital flight in 2021. It is about to launch one of the world’s most powerful rockets and currently has a contract with NASA to build a lunar lander.


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Written by Alex Bruno

Freelance space writer Alex Bruno specializes in covering China's quickly expanding space industry. In 2021, he started writing for SpaceXMania. He also contributes to publications including SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, and New Scientist. When Alex was a small child, he first experienced the space bug after seeing Voyager photographs of alien planets in our solar system. When not in space, Alex likes to go trail jogging in the Finnish countryside.

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