Elon Musk is working on SpaceX's Mars rocket ship in Texas while other top executives flock to Davos. A local thinks the CEO is using an historic home as a crash pad — take a look inside.
SpaceX is working feverishly to develop Starship, a new rocket system that may stand 39 stories tall, be fully reusable, and revolutionize humanity's access to space. Company founder Elon Musk regularly travels to the Starship development site in Boca Chica, Texas. He has stayed there for days at a time to work long late hours on prototypes alongside SpaceX staff. Most recently, Musk has been seen at the Texas site while other top executives attend the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Lodging is tricky, though: The nearest hotel is at least a 30-minute drive away in Brownsville, Texas, and his high public profile poses a security risk. However, SpaceX is purchasing homes in the area, and a local is convinced Musk has been staying in an historic A-frame-style home that Business Insider photographed in April. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Making it cheap to get humans and their stuff to and from space is no easy undertaking. But Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, is rushing to do just that at the southern tip of Texas. Musk is so engrossed by the project, in fact, that his Twitter feed suggests he is skipping most of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, to which top executives typically flock. The SpaceX CEO is also crashing in a historic A-frame home to catch what rest he can between long slogs of work, according to at least one local resident. Musk has been working late on an unprecedented rocket system called Starship. If realized, the final vehicle would be made of steel, stand 387 feet tall, and be fully reusable. Since most rockets today fall into the ocean after one use, Starship's reusability positions it to replace all other systems by slashing the cost of launching to space by more than 90%. According to Musk, Starship would be even cheaper to operate per flight than SpaceX's own partly reusable Falcon 9 rockets. Where Falcon 9 costs the company tens of millions of dollars to fly up to 25 tons of payload, Starship might cost just $2 million to launch up to 100 tons, Musk said in November. Such a system could deploy hundreds of SpaceX's next-generation Starlink internet satellites, heave gigantic telescopes into space for NASA, and ferry dozens of passengers into orbit at once. But Musk's big "aspirational" goals for Starship include sending the first cargo to Mars in 2022, launching the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and a crew of artists around the moon in 2023, and rocketing the first crewed mission to Mars in 2024. "I think we could potentially see people fly next year," Musk said in September while unveiling a Starship prototype in Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX is building out a private launch site and basing its development program. Musk now travels to South Texas at least monthly, according to social-media posts by Musk and others, for hands-on work toward launching the first Starship prototype, which he said might fly as soon as February or March. During a visit in late December, Musk tweeted he was "up all night" working on the "most difficult part" of Starship's steel structure: the domed ends of 30-foot-wide propellant tanks. (Such a dome failed during a pressurization test weeks earlier, sending it flying hundreds of feet into the air and across a state highway.) People who live in the area — and whom SpaceX is trying to buy out — find it hard to ignore Musk's presence, given his heavy security detail and onlookers who flock to their remote and formerly sleepy retiree-age beach community. At least one resident, whose identity Business Insider has verified but who asked not to be named because of ongoing property-sale negotiations with SpaceX, said Musk almost certainly now crashes in an A-frame-style house that SpaceX recently acquired. "It's perfect," the resident said, adding that the house is not only the nicest of about 30 homes in the area but also the only place that's "secluded and security-controlled." Here's a look inside the home, which also has a special historic significance to the Boca Chica area.SEE ALSO: How Elon Musk's 'UFO on a stick' devices may turn SpaceX internet subscribers into the Starlink satellite network's secret weapon DON'T MISS: Inside the 'awkward,' 'tense,' and 'heated' private meeting between Elon Musk and Texans whom SpaceX is trying to buy out to fully realize its vision to reach Mars SpaceX's launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, is a lonely 30-minute drive east of Brownsville down Highway 4.
The spit of land at the end, called Boca Chica by locals, is remote, relatively uninhabited, and close to the ocean, making it an attractive area to launch big rockets. SpaceX got permission to break ground on a private launch site in summer 2014.
Source: Business Insider But SpaceX precariously placed its launch site in and around Boca Chica Village, where dozens of residents still live.
Source: Business Insider Some of their homes sit within 2 miles of the launch site. A former NASA space-shuttle-program director previously told Business Insider that this was "cutting it too close."
Source: Business Insider A handful of residents sold their homes to SpaceX even before the company arrived, though many of their neighbors waited to see what would happen. The site was relatively inactive until late 2018, when SpaceX began building Starship prototypes.
Source: Business Insider Soon enough, SpaceX was test-firing rocket ships. One test in July inadvertently started an uncontrolled brush fire across dozens of acres of a nearby wildlife preserve. A couple months later, the company made every homeowner a buyout offer: three times a base appraisal for their properties.
Sources: Business Insider (1, 2) Frank Pearce, an immigration attorney who lives in Dallas, was one of the first residents to take SpaceX's offer. His history with the unusual A-frame house and guesthouse dates back more than 12 years.
Pearce's former property is close to SpaceX's expanding Starship project at the southwestern edge of town. Boca Chica Village sits just northeast of SpaceX's work yard.
SpaceX has purchased many homes in the area and bunks some of its workers in them. It uses others as storage sites and machine shops.
The A-frame property sits far away from those homes that line a boulevard and the dozens of part- and full-time residents still in the village.
In an interview months before he sold his property to SpaceX, Pearce told Business Insider that the buildings he bought were "shacks" that were "falling apart."
But he saw the property's potential as a secluded beachside getaway. Pearce said he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars renovating the site into a comfortable retreat.
He didn't have much of a choice, though: Cameron County doesn't permit the construction of new residential buildings in the area. "You had to rehab anything that was here," he said.
The property also has a notable history. In the 1950s and '60s, John Kaputa, a Chicago radio DJ and investor, set out to build a community for Polish Americans called Kennedy Shores. Pearce's A-frames were the models.
Source: Texas State Historical Association There was even a hotel built, but Hurricane Beulah in 1967 flooded the area with a storm surge, fouling the water system. The community Kaputa envisioned never panned out and was renamed Kopernik Shores and later Boca Chica Village. (Fresh water is now trucked in.)
Source: Texas State Historical Association The A-frames survived Beulah, eventually ending up in the hands of Pearce — and now SpaceX. As is customary for the company, SpaceX renamed a street on its new site "Rocket Road."
The street curves past the A-frame houses and toward SpaceX's main gate.
In fact, the main gate of the work yard is just a short walk away from Pearce's former property.
It's similarly close to Stargate, a launch control center built by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to support SpaceX activities and research opportunities.
Inside, the main house's sloped ceiling is spacious.
Several small bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen are on the ground floor.
The kitchen is decked out with modern appliances ...
... and plenty of beach kitsch.
That's because Boca Chica Beach, an untamed and publicly accessible strip of land, is just 2 miles away.
The kitchen and living room lead out to a small patio.
A spiral staircase winds up to the loft floor.
It's bright, clean, and roomy up there.
Around the corner is the master bedroom, which faces a secluded bay behind the property. After selling, Pearce said it wouldn't surprise him if Musk used the home. "I would have brought the king of England in and let him sleep there," Pearce said.
The loft looks down into the living room, which has a wood-burning stove for cold nights.
A balcony looks east with a view of SpaceX's work yard and, a couple of miles away, the launch pad.
Pearce wired cameras all over the premises for extra security but mainly for when he was gone for months. "I used to be able to go out in the backyard and shoot my little pistol," he said. "I could also go up on the balcony in my underwear, and I never worried about it."
But then SpaceX arrived, bringing a constant stream of equipment, construction, and people into the area. Pearce said for a time, he envisioned renting out his property to spaceflight fans as the "Rocket Road Bed and Breakfast."
The guesthouse is smaller and less refined, taking on more of a log-cabin vibe.
It has a foosball table, games, movies, and other amenities. Pearce recently told Business Insider he took only a small box of things, leaving pretty much everything else to SpaceX: TVs, appliances, bedding, and even silverware.
As a courtesy, Pearce also built a stone walkway between the main and guest houses right before he left. "I turned the keys over to SpaceX security on December 22," Pearce told Business Insider in an email. "Although I had until December 31st, they really wanted it as soon as possible — I assume for the CEO's visit the next week."
And almost as soon as Pearce moved out, the anonymous resident said, Musk arrived in the area for Starship prototyping work — and the lights went on in Pearce's house. "It's the only place he could stay," the resident said.
Despite the planned transformation of the Boca Chica site into a Mars spaceport, Pearce said SpaceX told him the company had no intention of bulldozing his old place. "Out of all the deals they made, I think they like mine the most," Pearce said. "You can wake up, have a cup of coffee, and within a couple hundred yards, go to the Stargate center — or meet with your buddies and converse about Mars."
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider for this story. Company representatives in past years have routinely declined to comment on the whereabouts of executives.
Have a story or information to share? Send Dave Mosher an email at email@example.com or consider more secure communication options listed here. This story was been updated with new images and information. It was originally published at 11:52 a.m. ET on January 16, 2020.