Behind the Scenes With the World’s Most Ambitious Rocket Makers – An improbable partnership between an Internet mogul and an engineer could revolutionize the way NASA conducts missions—and, if these iconoclasts are successful, send paying customers into space.
by early 2002 Mueller had moved his operations to a friend’s rented warehouse and was putting the finishing touches on the world’s largest amateur liquid-fuel rocket engine, an 80-pounder designed to produce 13,000 pounds of thrust.
Mueller’s ambitious moonlighting caught the attention of Internet multimillionaire Elon Musk, who met the engineer at the warehouse in January 2002 as Mueller was trying to attach his homemade engine to an airframe. Fresh from the $1.5 billion sale of PayPal to eBay, Musk was seeking staff for a new space company, soon to be called Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. He eyed the rocket engine and asked a simple question: “Can you build something bigger?”
Mueller never fired that engine. He took it back to his garage, where it still sits. Instead, he took up Musk’s offer to join the nascent private space venture.