On a recent Sunday, hundreds of engineering students and fans of futuristic, high-speed transportation gathered under a blazing sun outside the headquarters of SpaceX in Hawthorne, Calif., to do two things: watch some hyperloop pods go really fast, and informally celebrate the achievements of Elon Musk.
The SpaceX Hyperloop pod competition was a chance for 20 teams of engineering students to race their electrically powered, carbon-fiber pods through SpaceX’s three-quarter mile long steel hyperloop tube. But it was also a chance to sit in the driver seat of a Model 3, peer inside a Dragon capsule, stand in the shadow of a 10-foot tall obelisk built from Boring Company bricks, and stock up on some serious Musk swag. Falcon Heavy t-shirts, hyperloop stickers, and framed posters of SpaceX’s Tesla Roadster-driving “Starman” — all available for purchase.
It’s been a rough few months for Musk, and his legions of devoted fans. Tesla continues to struggle through the “production hell” of the mass-market Model 3 sedan, burning through billions of dollars in cash and worrying investors about the company’s financial future. The company laid off 9 percent of its staff in June, but says its on target to earn a profit later this year.
Meanwhile, Musk’s attempt to insert himself in the rescue operation of the youth soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand was widely panned. And he was forced to apologize to one of the cave rescuers for calling him a pedophile without justification after he dubbed Musk’s attempt to help save the stranded boys with a “kid-size submarine” a PR stunt.
And now here he is, throwing his idea of the best party on earth: a competition for engineering students. There was ping pong, SpaceX-branded Jenga, food trucks selling poké bowls, and an 80s cover band called the Spazmatics. It was like Bonnaroo (Elon-aroo?) meets the XPrize, with a splash of high school science fair. Striding past the hyperloop teams’ booths with his five sons, his girlfriend Canadian pop star Grimes, and a team of bodyguards in tow, Musk appeared utterly at ease. He bent over to inspect one prototype, and then cracked a physics joke to the pod’s designers. They laughed hysterically.
“There are so many things in the world that cause people to be depressed about the future, or pessimistic,” Musk later told the teams. “I think one of the things that you’re doing is making people excited about the future. Those things are rare. It actually energizes me about the future.” More