(CBS News) With the end of the U.S. space shuttle program, there is only one way for an American astronaut to get to the space station: onboard the Russian Soyuz rocket, where a round-trip ticket costs $60 million. Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk -- of PayPal and Tesla Motors fame -- wants to change all that. His company, SpaceX, recently became the first private company to make a roundtrip flight to the space station. Musk has even bigger dreams -- including interplanetary travel for all of us. Scott Pelley reports.
The following is from the script "SpaceX" which aired on March 18, 2012 and was rebroadcast on June 3, 2012. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Harry Radliffe, producer.
Until last week, only four entities had flown a space capsule to the International Space Station: the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency. Elon Musk is the fifth. Musk is the wealthy Internet entrepreneur we introduced you to last March who has vowed to revolutionize space exploration by bringing down the astronomical costs. Musk's company, called SpaceX, made history on Thursday when it became the first private company to make a roundtrip flight to the space station.
It's been hailed as the beginning of a new era of commercial space travel -- an era that can't get here fast enough for NASA, which retired the space shuttle last summer and now has to pay its old rival Russia to fly American astronauts into space. And Musk's ambition doesn't stop at the space station. He's one of the contenders vying for a NASA contract to build America's next manned spacecraft -- a contest he believes he has the right stuff to win.
When the final shuttle mission ended last July, for the first time in three decades, the United States had no way to launch astronauts into space. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another. Instead of NASA designing the next manned spacecraft, the White House decided that private industry should design, build and fly it -- opening space to commercial development. One of the companies vying for that contract is SpaceX. Elon Musk is the founder and CEO.
Scott Pelley: Is what we are experiencing, at this moment in time, the turning point in man's reach for space? Going from governments to private companies like yours?
Elon Musk: I think we're at the dawn of a new era and it's-- I think it's going to be very exciting. What we're hoping to do with Space X is to push the envelope and provide a reason for people to be excited and inspired to be human.
Musk is 40 years old, a naturalized American citizen, and reportedly worth nearly $2 billion. He isn't your typical corporate CEO. As a teenager, he wrote computer games in his native South Africa before immigrating to the U.S. - and to Silicon Valley where he was one of the most successful Internet entrepreneurs - the cofounder of PayPal.
Despite a chorus of skeptics, Musk built a car company called Tesla that turns out 5,000 high-end, all electric cars a year. Another Musk company sells solar power systems. But his lifelong passion is space. And when eBay bought PayPal in 2002, Musk started looking for ways to launch his new fortune into orbit.
Elon Musk: I went to Russia to look at buying a refurbished ICBM which is a very trippy experience. It was very bizarre. Yeah, when I tell people that-- they have to, like, what?
Musk made three trips to Russia trying to buy an intercontinental ballistic missile called the Dneiper. His plan was bizarre: put a greenhouse on the rocket, land it on Mars and beam back the pictures.
Elon Musk: It would get people really excited and that would recharge human space exploration. That was--
Scott Pelley: You just wanted to get people interested in space again?