Every dreamer must turn huckster at some point, lest his fantasies remain just that. But Musk is taking the practice to an extreme.
He is touring the United States, showing off a barely driveable show-car version of his Model S electric sedan, hoping to drum up deposits — sorry, "reservation fees" — on which his cash-strapped company will live until, in theory, it lands $350 million in government loans to build the car — maybe in 2011 but more likely in 2012, years after Musk first predicted his company would sell a mass-market sedan. If it happens at all. Musk has been treating the loans as a sure thing for months, but the company's application has yet to be approved.
If he cannot stop human motorists from polluting the planet, he will try to help them escape it through his other company, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. But SpaceX, too, seems to be running aground. The latest launch of his Falcon 1 rocket was cancelled, and the vehicle is rotting in the moist salt air of Omelek Island in Kwajalein while his technicians scramble to fix a vibration problem.
Aside from Falcon 1, Musk has no tested vehicles. The Falcon 9, the rocketship which Musk hopes will replace the Space Shuttle in carrying crew to the International Space Station, has not yet had its maiden flgiht. According to an archived SpaceX launch schedule, that was supposed to happen last year. An updated schedule shows that SpaceX's paying clients from Malaysia to Sweden have had their launches delayed, in some cases by years.
Musk's personal life is another source of unmanaged distraction. He is in the midst of a divorce from his wife, Justine Musk; the couple has five children. He is engaged to a British actress, the recently blonde Talulah Riley, whom he is supposed to marry this year. (That launch's schedule, too, has seemed to shift.)
Musk's underlings report a fickle, reality-resistant boss, flitting from idea to idea but never quite landing. And yet we're supposed to believe that Musk will get us to Mars by 2020 on the dot?
There's the real danger: Not that Musk's dreams are wrong, but that his personal failings mean it's more than likely he'll never realize them. Then the danger is that Musk's frothingly dizzy fanboys and orgasmically giggling fangirls will turn not just against Musk but against the dreams of electric cars and spaceflight. That's why, if you hope to zip around this rock without polluting it, or escape its gravity altogether, Elon Musk should not be your hero. The dream is not the dreamer.