Elon Musk is reportedly running a school at SpaceX headquarters. Ad Astra is a private school that is attended by Musk’s own children along with children of some SpaceX employees.
Musk founded the school in 2014 with the vision to exceed "traditional school metrics on all relevant subject matter through unique project-based learning experiences.” “I just didn’t see that the regular schools were doing the things that I thought should be done,” Musk told a Chinese TV station in a 2015 interview.
“So I thought, well let’s see what we can do. Maybe creating a school will be better.” According to an in-depth investigation by Ars Technica, students at the school received no formal grades and curriculum is based around teamwork on topics of their choosing.
Ad Astra puts focus on STEM
Unsurprisingly the school has a heavy emphasis on math, science, engineering, and ethics. Sports, languages, and arts play second fiddle to the passions of the school's founder.
The school is reportedly entirely funded by Musk. According to information gathered by Ars Technica, more than 400 families applied to have their children attend the school, which has a maximum of 50 students ranging in age from 7-14.
According to the report, there are less than a dozen open spots in the school at any one time. The school doesn’t advertise itself and Musk has barely mentioned the school in any public appearance.
LA-based families desperate to get in
Despite this super stealth mode, demand for the school is sky high. Christina Simon, author of Beyond the Brochure a guide to private elementary schools in Los Angeles says that parents see the school as very much connected to the ethos around Musk. “There are people who could afford any of the private schools in LA but want that school in particular,” she says.
“It’s very much about Elon Musk and who he is.” An application form that may have been for Ad Astra was shared amongst parents groups in LA last year, and despite there being no confirmation it was from the SpaceX education center, parents took the risk and sent back filled in forms.
“I talked to several parents who were going to take a chance and apply, even though it was impossible to verify that it was an Ad Astra application,” says Simon. “That’s the level of interest in this school. I cannot imagine that happening with any other school, public or private.”
School modeled on startup rather than classroom
Head of the school Joshua Dahn, spoke with entrepreneur Peter Diamandis last year and describes the school growth. "We started with eight kids in a really small conference room with transparent walls.
Engineers [would] always come drop by and peek on it.” Ad Astra now has dedicated classrooms and visitors report it looks more like a startup than a primary school with whiteboard walls, individual mac computers and food trucks stopping by for lunchtime.
IRS records show Musk gave the school $475,000 in both 2014 and 2015, though that number is likely to have climbed since the pupils have increased. It’s unclear how dedicated Musk is to the school as a long-term project or if it will close its doors once his own kids graduate.