First commercial space taxi a pit stop on Musk's Mars quest

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016 file photo, SpaceX founder Elon Musk speaks during the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. Starting with the dream of growing a rose on Mars, Musks vision morphed into a shake-up of the old space industry, and a fleet of new private rockets. In 2020, thoserockets are scheduled to launch NASA astronautsfrom Florida to the International Space Station -- the first time a for-profit company will carry astronauts into the cosmos. (AP Photo/Refugio Ruiz)

It all started with the dream of growing a rose on Mars.

That vision, Elon Musk’s vision, morphed into a shake-up of the old space industry, and a fleet of new private rockets. Now, those rockets will launch NASA astronauts from Florida to the International Space Station -- the first time a for-profit company will carry astronauts into the cosmos.

It’s a milestone in the effort to commercialize space. But for Musk’s company, SpaceX, it’s also the latest milestone in a wild ride that began with epic failures and the threat of bankruptcy.

If the company’s eccentric founder and CEO has his way, this is just the beginning: He’s planning to build a city on the red planet, and live there.

“What I really want to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible, make it seem as though it’s something that we can do in our lifetimes and that you can go,” Musk told a cheering congress of space professionals in Mexico in 2016.

Musk “is a revolutionary change” in the space world, says Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, whose Jonathan’s Space Report has tracked launches and failures for decades.

Ex-astronaut and former Commercial Spaceflight Federation chief Michael Lopez-Alegria says, “I think history will look back at him like a da Vinci figure.”

Musk has become best known for Tesla, his audacious effort to build an electric vehicle company. But SpaceX predates it.