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TIME featured SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell as one of the '100 Most Influential People of 2020'. SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 to make life multiplanetary. Shotwell is responsible for day-to-day operations at the aerospace company that aims to colonize Mars before the year 2050. She has a vital role in company growth. Under her leadership, SpaceX has accomplished launching the first NASA astronauts to the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft this year.
A TIME reporter had the opportunity to talk to Shotwell this week. During the 'TIME 100 Talks' interview session, Shotwell was questioned, why SpaceX is pursuing to go to Mars if it probably "will not be as lucrative" as launching payload to orbit for other companies. To which Shotwell responded: "... Elon [Musk] founded this company, with the entire purpose of building a space transportation capability that would allow humans to move to other planets," she said. "I remember I was interviewing Elon in 2002... He had such an ambitious goal, it sounded absolutely insane at that time and now almost 20 years later, it doesn't actually sound that insane. Well, at least not to the insiders... maybe to the public they're thinking 'Hmm, do I want to move to Mars? I don't know that seems like a big step.' But candidly, transporting people to other planets --I cannot imagine a goal more worthy or more important," Shotwell said. "... I also want to make sure you understand -We are not giving up on Earth, when we talk about building capability to move humanity to other planets... Its not giving up on Earth, it's actually just giving humanity another shot in case there would be some horrible event on Earth [...] a second planet to live," she added.
SpaceX is actively developing Starship, its next-generation launch vehicle, in South Texas. Starship will be capable of transporting one hundred passengers and tons of cargo to the Red Planet. "... Space tourism is an interesting business area. The market is not there yet and we have never counted on tourism as a market. I do believe that it will be a business," she said. Shotwell believes in the next 10 years "people will be able to travel into space who are not billionaires" to visit the Moon or colonize Mars.
SpaceX is also deploying its own internet network, Starlink. The company is launching satellites into low Earth orbit where each will beam broadband connection worldwide. During the TIME interview, Shotwell shared the reasons why SpaceX opted to now go into the telecommunications business. She said the first reason is because SpaceX loves to take on challenges -- "A low Earth orbiting broadband constellation has never been successful ... Elon is always talking about [how] this business is littered with dead bodies with companies that have not made it," she said. "The second reason ... once you take people to Mars, they're going to need a capability to communicate. In fact, I think it will be even more critical to have a constellation like Starlink around Mars. And then of course you need to connect the two planets as well," Shotwell explained. The third reason for deploying Starlink, is to connect people around the world who cannot easily access terrestrial internet because they live in rural and remote areas. You can watch the full TIME interview in the video below.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW