Elon Musk wanted to find out how much a possible launch would cost before SpaceX launched, so he planned a trip to Russia. Musk planned to buy a refurbished ballistic ICBM or ICBM from Russians and use it as a launcher. Asking for help, Elon turned to Jim Cantrell, a man accused of espionage who was placed under house arrest by the Russians in 1996 – a fantastic choice, of course.
After unsuccessful negotiations with the Russians, who treated Elon Musk like a little boy. Both Cantrell, Musk, and Griffin (another guy Elon recruited to go to Russia with him) felt dejected as they sat on their plane for the flight home. When Musk suddenly turns around and shows them a spreadsheet he made “Hey, guys,” he said, “I think we can build this rocket ourselves.”
Of course, neither Griffin nor Cantrell thought Musk was serious. However, Musk explains that this table details the cost of materials to build, assemble, and launch a rocket. Musk has calculated that he could undercut existing launch companies by building a humble rocket that would cover a portion of the market that specializes in transporting smaller satellites and research payloads into space.
Cantrell asks confused: “Elon, where did you get that?”
Musk had spent months studying the aerospace industry and the physics behind it. From Cantrell and others he had borrowed “Rocket Propulsion Elements”, “Fundamentals of Astrodynamics” and “Aerothermodynamics of Gas Turbine and Rocket Propulsion” along with several other groundbreaking texts. Musk had returned to his childhood state of information hog and had emerged from this meditative process with the realization that missiles could and should be made cheaper than what the Russians are offering.
He came to this revelation about rockets by reading books and texts on rocket engines, etc. That way, he finally had enough knowledge to start the company.