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- SpaceX’s first engineers lived on a remote Pacific island to prepare the company’s earliest rocket for launch.
- In the first year that SpaceX was on the island, food shipments sometimes failed.
- So one day, hungry engineers refused to work until a helicopter brought chicken and cigarettes.
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In SpaceX’s earliest days, its rocket engineers lived on a remote Pacific island, where they occasionally ran out of food.
On that island, called Omelek, the team was racing to build a launchpad and set up the company’s Falcon 1 rocket.
Journalist Eric Berger, who works as the space editor at Ars Technica, describes those early days of Elon Musk’s rocket company in his new book, Liftoff, which will be published Tuesday. Berger’s telling of SpaceX’s beginnings is packed with anecdotes that have never been previously reported – such as Elon Musk’s first encounter with a Pop-Tart, a rocket launch attempt thwarted by salty ocean spray, and an island mutiny staged by hungry workers in 2005.
SpaceX engineers were living and working on Omelek, part of the Marshall Islands’ Kwajalein Atoll, because that’s the spot the company chose to escape the US Air Force. The Air Force had indefinitely delayed the company’s efforts to launch from California. But the US Army, which oversaw the atoll, was friendlier to SpaceX’s plans. Being close to the equator also made it easier to reach orbit.
However, during that first year on the island, Berger writes, “logistics were poor.” Supply deliveries were often delayed, and the workers sometimes went without food.
So one day in the fall of 2005, tensions boiled over into mutiny. The employees went on strike to force an emergency supply drop, and were eventually quelled with chicken wings and cigarettes.