SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 with the ultimate mission to make life multiplanetary. In the early days of SpaceX, Musk recruited talented engineers who shared his same passion to develop rockets that would enable the exploration of other worlds. Musk recruited Tom Mueller, a dedicated rocket engineer who became a co-founder of SpaceX. Mueller is considered one of the leading spacecraft propulsion experts in the world and holds several United States patents for the propulsion technology he designed. He lead SpaceX engineering teams to develop some of the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft in history!
Mueller graduated from the University of Idaho in 1985 as a Mechanical Engineer, and obtained his master's degree in 1992 at Loyola Marymount University. As a student, he never imagined he would become one of the leading figures in rocket development. The University of Idaho shares that when Mueller was in high school he planned to become a mechanic for airplanes. He was inspired to become an engineer thanks to a geometry teacher. “… In my first year in high school, my math teacher asked if I was going to be an engineer. I said no. He was astounded. He asked, ‘Do you want to be the guy who fixes the plane or the guy who designs it?’ If it hadn’t been for that math teacher, I probably would have been a mechanic or a logger. Thanks to him, I got the right courses to go to college,” Mueller told the University. That is when he decided to study engineering. Mueller worked as a logger in Idaho’s forests to pay for his education.
For 15 years, Mueller worked for TRW Inc., a corporation involved in aerospace, automotive, and electronics. While working at TRW Mueller began to build his own engines as a hobby in his garage. In late 2001, Mueller started to develop a new kind of liquid-fueled rocket engine in a warehouse. His impressive work caught the attention of Elon Musk, who was PayPal co-founder and CEO of Tesla Inc. at that time. In 2002 Mueller joined Musk to build rockets at SpaceX – and the rest is history.
Mueller is known for developing rocket engines from scratch. Some of the new engines he helped SpaceX teams develop are the Falcon 1 Kestrel engine, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy Merlin engine, among other spacecraft engines. His legacy is the Falcon 9 rocket’s Merlin engine that is in operation today. It is powered by rocket-grade Kerosene and liquid oxygen. The Falcon 9 first-stage booster features nine Merlin 1D engines that can produce over 1.7 million pounds of thrust. The rocket is capable of launching payload to orbit and landing on autonomous droneships at sea. SpaceX developed the first orbital-class rockets capable of returning from space to be reused. To date, the company has launched 100 Falcon 9 rockets, landed 67, and reused 46.
The Falcon 9 rocket ushered a new spaceflight era. SpaceX officially returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States this year. NASA had not launched humans to space since the Space Shuttle was grounded in 2011. Falcon 9 propelled NASA astronauts aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, during SpaceX’s first pair of crewed missions that took place in May and November.
After these incredible accomplishments and working for nearly twenty years at SpaceX, Mueller formally announced his retirement on November 30. “I retired from SpaceX today! Thank you Elon Musk, it was quite a ride!” Mueller wrote via Twitter. “Thanks for everything you did to help build SpaceX! Some of the best memories ever,” Musk wrote in response.
Thanks for everything you did to help build SpaceX! Some of the best memories ever.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 30, 2020
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.