The idea of SpaceX was first conceived after a Russian engineer spat on Elon Musk’s shoe, according to a new memoir by Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator from 2009 to 2013, during Barack Obama’s administration. Her new memoir, “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age,” was published one June 21st.
According to Garver, it all happened because of the character clash between the Russian (she did not give his name) and the American delegation. Garver says that Musk’s manner of dress offended the engineer at the meeting that should have taken place in 2001 (SpaceX was founded by the South African on March 14th, 2002).
If Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships, this was the event that launched a thousand spacecraft.Lori Garver, Former NASA Deputy Administrator
Jim Cantrell, co-founder of SpaceX, has also corroborated the incident, as reported by the blog Tweak Town. In a documentary aired in Channel 4 last May, Cantrell said that, “The Roscosmos chief designer engineer was getting very nervous as Elon was talking. He got tired of listening to him, than spat on our shoes.”
For Cantrell, the Russians interpreted the casual clothing Musk chose for the meeting as “a sign of disrespect. They looked at us like we weren’t credible people. They thought we were full of shit.”
According to Business Insider, Cantrell described the situation similarly in a biography on Musk by Ashlee Vance, “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.” Cantrell has noted that the Russians were not overly friendly towards Musk over the course of several conversations in Moscow. According to the biography, the Russian team was more interested in small talk and drinks, while Musk wanted to get down to business, according to the biography.
They looked at us like we were not credible people.Jim Cantrell, co-founder of SpaceX
After a tug-of-war between Musk and the Russians over rocket prices, the South African made the decision to walk out of the meeting. He said he wouldn’t need to buy rockets if he made his own, and in less than 12 months he formed SpaceX. His goal was to end dependence on Russian-made rockets.
In the book Garver attacks the current NASA administrator then Senator Bill Nelson, for being against the commercial program that has brought the US’s aerospace agency to forefront again.
Garver always sought to give private companies the opportunity to propose alternatives to NASA’s traditional approach. Today, the reality for the aerospace agency is that its partnership with SpaceX and other private companies has been key to the development of the current program.
At the time, when Musk made public comments that he could help solve NASA’s problems, Nelson shouted at Garver in a private meeting, “Put your son Elon in line,” according to a story published by Politico.
According to Business Insider, Musk’s rivalry with Russia has continued for decades. The billionaire has recently engaged in a debate on Twitter with Roscosmos Chief Dmitry Rogozin. Musk wants to launch one of the most powerful rockets in the world by the end of 2022.