The Day My Dad Met Elon Musk

15/06/2016 16:04 | Updated 15 June 2016

Meeting Elon Musk at SpaceX - photo by Maria Ingold

Q: What do you get a rocket scientist for Father's Day?
A: Another rocket scientist!

On Invention

The idea started, festered really, every time I read about something created by some guy named Elon Musk.

Festering is the mother of invention. They had to meet.

On Rocket Science

My dad, Norm Ingold, is a rocket scientist. He has nearly 50 years' practical experience. He even worked on Apollo 13 for NASA -- increasing the accuracy of the guidance systems of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) from 200 miles to 3 miles -- helping save the astronaut's lives.

As a child, the rocket sled tests he worked on at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico seemed magical.

Dad retired as Chief Scientist. Thirteen years later he was hired back as a consultant. My favourite story is how, after he returned, he increased the accuracy of a specific rocket component by 1000% using a printout, a ruler and a calculator.

As Elon puts it, Dad applies "First Principles" thinking.

The similarity with Elon didn't end at rocket science.

On Cars

Dad used to race and now has 17 cars, including some antiques he's restoring. My favourite is a 1930 V16 Cadillac.

While Elon's electric cars don't have an engine to restore, they share a love of beauty and speed.

On Solar

Using physics, trigonometry and sheer strength, Dad built our off-grid cabin by hand.

He hosts the solar panels on the barn roof and stores the power in golf cart batteries which he converts into house current using an inverter.

On Lateral Innovation

Dad's second grade teacher said he'd never amount to anything, because he took longer than all the other students to do anything. He took longer because he was thinking.

He studied geology, anthropology, physics (including quantum mechanics and relativity), mathematics, linguistics and chemistry. He speaks seven languages. He could do solar because he understood electricity. And he's used everything in rocket science.

Dad says, "Learn everything about everything." Innovate laterally across everything you learn.

On Making the Impossible Happen

Just before Father's Day, 2015, I read an article on Tesla Powerwall -- cool slim solar battery storage -- by Elon Musk.

Within 24 hours I'd published Father's Day for Rocket Scientists -- A Letter to Elon Musk, saying it would be marvellous if they met. Within another 24 hours I had a yes from Elon.

We'd meet Elon at SpaceX in Los Angeles, California on Monday the 24th of August, 2015.

Dad wanted to drive his pickup truck to LA, a distance of nearly 900 miles. So I flew out from London to ride with him.

In LA we met the one who helped me make the impossible happen. I'm grateful for my courage to ask and thankful to those with the courage to respond.

Meeting Mr Musk

After months of planning and thousands of miles, it was finally the day.

SpaceX gave us VIP passes. Our guide began to explain how the rocket engine in the entrance hallway worked. I mentioned that Dad had worked on Apollo 13. He laughed, and said Dad could probably tell him then!

As we spoke, Elon emerged from the doors leading to the interior lab area of SpaceX.

I introduced Dad and left them to it. Elon graciously waited for questions. He and Dad spoke about the accident and quality control. It was a mixing of the generations of rocket scientists. The old learnings, the new learnings and the shared experiences. I think they would have had a great many more things to discuss, but like most busy executives, Elon had to move onwards. Elon walked out the doors behind us, and we walked into the bowels of SpaceX.

If my dad had been a little star-struck by Elon, he was galaxy-struck by SpaceX, stating, "I've been asked to see a lot of facilities in my time. This one's the best I've ever seen."

To Infinity and Beyond

We drove back via Route 66. At Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, I discovered Dad had known Clyde Tombaugh who discovered Pluto. We then saw Meteor Crater and finally, the Very Large Array (VLA), 27 massive radio telescopes that paint a picture of space using radio waves.

As we passed the Trinity Site, nearing home, Dad said, "This has been the most perfect visit ever."

I realised this trip wasn't just about Elon Musk and space. It was about togetherness. And family. And precious father-daughter time. And fun.

If I'm recognised as a global leader in video on demand and emerging tech today, it's thanks to Dad's inspiration.

And I discovered how to make the impossible happen. Festering leads to invention. Learning leads to innovation. And the courage to ask and take leads to the impossible.

The full article was originally published on Maria Ingold's mireality blog.
Unabridged Version: The Day My Dad Met Elon Musk