The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

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By Gordon Young, Editor

March 10, 2013 | 4 min read

Elon Musk was given a warm reception at SXSW yesterday, little surprise as the SpaceX, Tesla Motors and PayPal founder is almost considered 'Geek Royalty'.

In a keynote address he gave insights into the stresses and strains of three failed space rocket launches and the troubles at Tesla cars which put the entire fortune he amassed through the sale of PayPal at risk.

One episode described was the highly public spat with a New York Times motoring correspondent, who had given a bad Tesla car review - the vehicle ran out of charge in a trip between Boston and New York. Tesla's stock initially sank as a result of the piece.

The New York Times eventually agreed it got some of its facts wrong, but rejected Musk's claims it was written in bad faith. However, his feud with the journalist involving claim and counter claim, was hardly text book crisis PR management.

But Musk says he did not regret a thing, "The only thing I would do differently, which I might still, is publish a rebuttal to their rebuttal."

In other words the feud may not be over, an insight into the dogged determination of the the South African born entrepreneur.

However, by far the most interesting segment of the talk was an update on his SpaceX business - including the development of a technology which will allow the reuse of rockets; an innovation which will dramatically cut costs.

The system uses boosters to bring the rocket safely to the ground with the precision of a helicopter. As part of the presentation the audience saw a new film of the technology being successfully used.

It featured a 10 storey rocket being fire hundreds of feet into the air, before being safely brought back to ground, where it landed in its upright position.

The film is effectively the reverse of a rocket launch, and SXSW was the first place it was ever shown.

Musk gave the impression that the development is on par with the successful launch of a SpaceX rocket into space, which successfully docked with International Space Station, after three highly expensive failures.

Underlining his think-big credentials he reminded the thousands in the room his inspiration for his space business was getting man to Mars.

"I have always been curious about space, but never thought there was anything I could do in space," he told moderator Chris Anderson, "but then I went to the NASA website to find out when we would be going to space - and could not find anything."

It was a huge gamble. As a result of Tesla and three failed rocket launches he ended up, "putting all my money in. It wasn't the plan but it was all in. My old buddies at PayPal helped me out."

Musk claims he is not competing with NASA, but believes private business will be able to develop space faster, cheaper and smarter than governments. He also told the crowd, that his vision is consistent with the ethos of the United States.

His initial supposition was wrong that the failure to get to Mars was because the country had lost its ambition to explore . "The United States remains a nation of explorers. But they have got to believe that exploring won't bankrupt them."

His presentation suggested Musk will not slow down any time soon. As well as revealing he may set up a new space base in Texas, how he offered to help Boeing with their lithium battery problems, he hinted at the development of a new transportation system, the Hyperloop.

"It would be something that would be twice as fast as a plane, at least, in terms of total transit time," Musk said. "It would be immune to weather, incapable of crashing pretty much unless it was a terrorist attack, and the ticket price would be half of a plane."

However, Mars remains his primary vision.

"I would like to die on Mars," he said, "just not on impact."

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