Enlarge / The author tries not to crash a lunar rover. (credit: Eric Berger)

As a SpaceX engineer working on the Starship program about five years ago, Jaret Matthews could see the future of spaceflight quite clearly and began to imagine the possibilities.

For decades everything that went to space had to be carefully measured, optimized for mass, and serve an extremely specialized purpose. But Starship, Matthews believed, held the potential to change all that. With full reusability, a barn-size payload fairing, and capability to loft 100 or more metric tons to orbit in a single throw, Starship offered the tantalizing prospect of a world in which flying into space was not crazy expensive. He envisioned Starships delivering truckloads of cargo to the Moon or Mars.

Matthews spent a decade working on robots and rovers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before coming to SpaceX in 2012. He began to suggest that the company work on a system that could unload and distribute cargo from Starship, like the cranes and trucks that offload cargo from large container ships in port. However, he didn’t get far, as SpaceX was focused on developing the Starship transportation system.

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