Explaining Southern California's economy

Facebook v. SpaceX


The Dragon capsule, developed and built by Hawthorne-based SpaceX. On Saturday, it will be launched in the first-ever private mission to service the International Space Station.

Just for the sake of argument, let's say Facebook's highly touted IPO was a flop, priced at $38 a share and closing just 23 cents above that figure. There's another California company that's staging a big event this weekend, and it has nothing to do with Wall Street. 

It may wind up being remembered for far longer.

On Saturday, before dawn at the Kennedy Space Flight center in Florida, the L.A.-area's own SpaceX will launch a rocket tipped with a capsule designed to perform an experimental service mission for the International Space Station. This marks the first time a private company will perform a mission traditionally handled by NASA or a state-run space agency. 

From the Christian Science Monitor:

For NASA, the mission represents the first test of its new stance as a customer for launch services to low-Earth orbit. No longer is it the organization sitting in the driver's seat from rocket design through launch to landing. Once the Falcon 9 leaves the pad, control of the mission shifts to SpaceX's command center at its Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters. Only when Dragon closes in on the space station will NASA have thumbs-up or thumbs-down say in the test flight's next steps.

Hawthorne is just down the road from the city of Los Angeles. It's nothing new to have spacecraft managed from the L.A. area; the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena controls missions to Mars from right next door to the Rose Bowl. It's just that SpaceX is a startup, whose CEO, Elon Musk, represents a slightly different view of America's business future than Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Musk was a co-founder of PayPal and went on to become CEO of Tesla Motors, the electric car startup that staged an IPO in 2010, as well as SpaceX (he's also Chairman of SolarCity, an alternative energy company). At 40, he's the divorced father of five. It doesn't seem that he's ever worn a Zuckerbergian hoodie.

And of course Mark Zuckerberg hasn't blasted a rocket into Earth orbit. The two CEOs have divergent strategies but similar visions for the future of humanity. Zuck wants to pursue Facebook's mission of uniting the world, through seamless communications and social interactions. Musk wants to inspire people to explore space and enable the private sector to make it happen. Musk works in the actual world. Zuck hacks away in the virtual realm.

Zuck and Musk. Zuck v. Musk.

However you want to look at it, both men are experiencing big events in the span of 48 hours. Both are Californians (though neither are natives). And in both cases, the big events are occurring in traditional bastions of the business that Zuck and Musk are in: New York, the capital of finance and media; and Florida, where the U.S. space program has roots that run deep.

Facebook kind of fizzled in its debut. Let's hope SpaceX has better luck.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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