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Elon Musk named Time Magazine's person of the year

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and the SpaceX team are recognized by Vice President Mike Pence at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center following the launch of the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station on May 30, 2020.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and the SpaceX team are recognized by Vice President Mike Pence at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center following the launch of the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station on May 30, 2020. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk is the Time person of the year for 2021, the magazine announced on Monday (Dec. 13).

"Person of the Year is a marker of influence, and few individuals have had more influence than Musk on life on Earth, and potentially life off Earth, too," Time editor in chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal said in a statement. "In 2021, Musk emerged not just as the world’s richest person but also as perhaps the richest example of a massive shift in our society."

That shift includes "the continuing decline of traditional institutions in favor of individuals; government dysfunction that has delivered more power and responsibility to business; and chasms of wealth and opportunity," Felsenthal said. 

World's tallest rocket: SpaceX stacks Starship atop massive booster for 1st time

This SpaceX photo shows the first test-fire of six Raptor engines on the company's Starship SN20 rocket prototype on Nov. 12, 2021 at the Starbase facility in near Boca Chica Village in South Texas. A Starship Super Heavy booster stands at right.

This SpaceX photo shows the first test-fire of six Raptor engines on the company's Starship SN20 rocket prototype on Nov. 12, 2021 at the Starbase facility near Boca Chica Village in South Texas. A Starship Super Heavy booster stands at right. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Some notable achievements by Musk and SpaceX this year include safely landing a prototype of the company's huge Starship Mars rocket during a high-altitude test flight; maintaining crewed access to the International Space Station from the U.S. via SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket; and successfully launching four civilians on a charity-focused orbital spaceflight known as Inspiration4 (a mission backed by another billionaire, Jared Isaacman.) 

Musk was even a guest on Saturday Night Live, which included the requisite Dogecoin jokes. Musk is a huge fan of the cryptocurrency, and is even (reportedly) starting to accept missions paid for in Dogecoin.

Musk is still keeping his interplanetary settlement dreams alive with Starship and is now framing his goal of reaching the Red Planet as a solution to some of Earth's problems, such as global warming. That's a position that is in itself controversial among some, according to Vox, but Musk has been laser-focused on Mars since SpaceX's foundation nearly 20 years ago.

"The goal overall has been to make life multiplanetary and enable humanity to become a spacefaring civilization," Musk said in an interview with Time. "The next really big thing is to build a self-sustaining city on Mars and bring the animals and creatures of Earth there, sort of like a futuristic Noah's ark. We’ll bring more than two, though — it's a little weird if there’s only two."

Musk's interview with Time also gives some suggested milestones for his various long-term space missions, including going around the moon "maybe as soon as 2023." He also said he'll "be surprised" if SpaceX doesn't achieve a human Mars landing in five years, and he gave more clarification on recent reports that SpaceX could go bankrupt due to a production crisis on its new Raptor engine for Starship. 

"Worst case situation ... bankruptcy is not out of the question, not that it's likely," Musk said in the interview with Time. "We cannot lose our edge or get complacent."

You can read the full cover story at Time at this link.

Musk's selection as Time's person of the year won't be universally lauded. The billionaire entrepreneur has been criticized for such actions as re-opening a Tesla factory (Musk is also CEO of Tesla) against public health guidance during the pandemic and making rude comments about an individual who helped rescue a set of boys trapped in a cave, while Musk's proposed submarine solution was set aside. 

And SpaceX's Starlink satellite megaconstellation, while expanding internet access in rural areas, also has been criticized for interfering with astronomical observations due to the number and brightness of the spacecraft. 

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.