Elon Musk offers to make ventilators for coronavirus patients

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk discusses the company's successful Falcon Heavy rocket test in February 2018.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk discusses the company's successful Falcon Heavy rocket test in February 2018. (Image credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA)

Elon Musk wants to help combat the coronavirus pandemic

The billionaire entrepreneur — who runs SpaceX and the electric-car company Tesla, among other ventures — offered to manufacture breathing machines for sufferers of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

"We will make ventilators if there is a shortage," Musk said via Twitter on Wednesday (March 18). 

Nate Silver, editor in chief of fivethirtyeight.com, quickly responded that there is indeed a shortage and asked Musk how many ventilators he planned to make. 

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"Tesla makes cars with sophisticated hvac [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now?" Musk replied.

This exchange caught the attention of many people on Twitter, including folks trying to manage the coronavirus outbreak. For example, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted this out on Thursday morning (March 19): "@elonmusk New York City is buying! Our country is facing a drastic shortage and we need ventilators ASAP — we will need thousands in this city over the next few weeks. We’re getting them as fast as we can but we could use your help! We’re reaching out to you directly."

Musk has apparently been monitoring the coronavirus pandemic closely. He has tweeted frequently about COVID-19, arguing more than once that panic about the outbreak has the potential to be more dangerous than the disease itself, which has claimed 9,800 lives around the world to date and sickened at least 235,000.

This wouldn't be the first time that Musk has put company resources toward solving a high-profile international problem. In 2018, for example, engineers from SpaceX, Tesla and The Boring Co., Musk's tunnel-building outfit, built a miniature submarine to help rescue a youth soccer team that was trapped in a flooded Thailand cave. Rescuers didn't use the sub, however; they swam the kids and their coach out with SCUBA gear.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.