Serial entrepreneur and tech billionaire Elon Musk visited Seattle Friday but made clear he has higher aspirations when he told the crowd at a glitzy private event, “One day I will visit Mars.”
According to a person who was present, Musk outlined a new space venture centered in Washington state that he hopes will bankroll that ambition.
Inside the Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center Friday evening, Musk proclaimed “the launch of SpaceX Seattle” to a crowd of about 400 invited guests who reacted with rousing applause.
The majority of those present were hand-picked engineers identified by SpaceX recruiters as potential hires.
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Also attending were at least two members of Congress and local government and state officials. Media were not invited.
As guests drank beer and wine and sipped Champagne from glasses etched with the SpaceX logo, Musk outlined an audacious plan to build a constellation of some 4,000 low earth orbit satellites, a network in space that could deliver high-speed Internet access anywhere on Earth.
Those satellites are to be designed by software and aerospace engineers in SpaceX’s new engineering office in Redmond.
Musk set this plan in the context of his well-known obsession with Mars.
The person present said Musk told the crowd that the satellite endeavor is “all for the purpose of generating revenue to pay for a city on Mars.”
The crowd lapped up his futuristic vision.
Alex Pietsch, director of Gov. Jay Inslee’s aerospace office, said one University of Washington graduate student at the event told him, “I don’t want to move to L.A. or Florida or Texas. Having this here is really cool.”
Pietsch said Musk, who is making his plans here without any financial incentives from the state, met privately before the event with Inslee at the nearby Chihuly Garden and Glass museum.
Inslee thanked Musk for his investment and the two had a friendly chat about space, clean energy and Tesla, Pietsch said.
“It’s pretty exciting for this region to have SpaceX as part of the aerospace community,” Pietsch added.
As the crowd entered the Fisher Pavilion, they walked past a prop SpaceX had set up: a Dragon space capsule.
Demonstrating that Musk has translated some of his vision into reality, the heavily worn spacecraft has shot into orbit on the tip of a Falcon 9 rocket, then hurtled back to Earth after delivering cargo to the International Space Station.
After the event, the Dragon was to be moved to the Museum of Flight, where it will be on display through Monday.
The South African-born Musk, 43, made his fortune as a co-founder of PayPal, then started Tesla Motors to reinvent the car and SpaceX to pursue his Mars ambition.
As he addressed the crowd, Musk’s image was projected onto giant screens. He made a short speech, then took about 15 questions from the crowd, about 20 minutes in all.
He made clear he’s coming here for the local software and aerospace engineers.
“We want to hire the smartest engineering talent in the world,” he said.
Earlier this week, Musk told Bloomberg News he will ultimately employ “several hundred people, maybe a thousand people” in Washington state.
Friday night, he spoke of “slow but steady and significant growth” in employment here and cautioned the engineers to be patient.
Musk asked them to try again if they don’t hear back from SpaceX soon.
“It’s hard to hire 500 people all at once,” he said.
Musk, who had visited his new Redmond offices earlier in the afternoon, left the Seattle Center event after about an hour.
Glancing back, he’d have seen the SpaceX logo lit up on the exterior of the building, with the Space Needle in the background.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963