Tom Mueller mug cropped

Tom Mueller

Twenty years ago, a tech millionaire with space travel ambitions approached an engineer from a small North Idaho town to craft an engine for a privately funded rocket launch, writes Idaho Press reporter Ryan Suppe.

“At the time, conventional wisdom was countries do that, big companies funded by countries do that,” said Tom Mueller, who in 2002 joined SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace company. “No individual or small private company had ever developed a pump-fed liquid rocket engine. It was kind of scary.”

The engine Mueller would design, as an executive leading SpaceX propulsion projects, is the Merlin. It powered Falcon 1, the first privately-developed liquid engine spacecraft to orbit Earth, and Falcon 9, the first reusable orbital rocket, which revolutionized space travel, making it more affordable and reliable.

After more than three decades designing world-renowned rocket engines, Mueller next month will be inducted into the Idaho Technology Council Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Barbara Morgan, the McCall teacher and astronaut; Burt Rutan, the aerospace engineer who made Idaho his home; and Ray Smelek, the engineer credited with bringing Hewlett-Packard to Boise, among other famed scientists and entrepreneurs with ties to the Gem State.

Mueller is one of two inductees this year. He’s joined by Jack Hand, former CEO and Chairman of POWER Engineers, a Meridian-based consulting engineering firm.

You can read Suppe's full story here at (subscription required), or pick up today's Sunday/Monday Idaho press; it's on the front page.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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