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He brought along Jim Cantrell, a kind of international aerospace supplies fixer, and Adeo Ressi, his best friend from Penn.

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And so Ressi went to Russia to contain Musk as best as he could. “He was seriously worried.” The group set up a few meetings with companies such as NPO Lavochkin, which had made probes intended for Mars and Venus for the Russian Federal Space Agency, and Kosmotras, a commercial rocket launcher based in Moscow.

“Adeo would call me to the side and say, ‘What Elon is doing is insane. The appointments all seemed to go the same way, following Russian decorum.

The Russians, who often skip breakfast, would ask to meet around 11 a.m. Then there would be small talk for an hour or more as the meeting attendees picked over a spread of sandwiches, sausages, and, of course, vodka.

After lunch came a lengthy smoking and coffee drinking period.

Musk figured it would be a good vehicle for sending a plant or some mice to Mars.

Ressi, a gangly eccentric, had been thinking a lot about whether his best friend had started to lose his mind, and he’d been doing his best to discourage the project.

He peppered Musk with links to video montages of Russian, European, and American rockets exploding.

He staged interventions, bringing Musk’s friends together to talk him out of wasting his money. Musk remained committed to funding a grand, inspirational spectacle in space and would spend all of his fortune to do it.

Once all of the tables were cleared, the Russian in charge would turn to Musk and ask, “What is it you’re interested in buying?

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