There are people who could afford any of the private schools in LA but want that school in particular

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

I’ve mentioned Elon Musk’s Ad Astra school before, and now word is slowly spreading:

Ad Astra has a lower profile than most start-ups in stealth mode. Its website is just a logo and an email address, and the school does not market itself to parents. Musk himself has said virtually nothing about Ad Astra, and both SpaceX and Ad Astra declined our requests for comment. Currently, the only glimpses of Ad Astra available to outsiders come from a 2017 webinar interview with the school’s principal (captured in an unlisted YouTube video) and recent public filings like the IRS document referenced above.

Despite this mystique, demand among families in Los Angeles is astronomical, says Christina Simon, author of Beyond the Brochure, a guide to private elementary schools in the city. “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.”

The last admissions cycle in 2017 saw up to 400 families visit in the hope of securing one of just a dozen open spots.

In December, an online application form purportedly for Ad Astra starting popping up in Los Angeles parenting forums and Facebook groups. The form asked for details of grades, test scores, and personal information about families, but it had no affiliation or contact listed.

“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.”

The school is even mysterious within SpaceX, Musk’s rocket company that houses Ad Astra on its campus in the industrial neighborhood of Hawthorne. About half Ad Astra’s students are children of SpaceX employees, and the school is touted during recruiting, says Simon. “I’ve heard from various SpaceX families that they have tried and failed to get information about the school, even though they were told it was a benefit during the interview,” she says.

The lucky few who succeed in applying, pass a reasoning test, and are admitted ultimately enter a school quite unlike any other. For a start, Ad Astra’s location inside a working company is unconventional to say the least. “We started with eight kids in a really small conference room with transparent walls,” says Joshua Dahn, head of the school, speaking in conversation with entrepreneur Peter Diamandis last year. “Engineers [would] always come drop by and peek on it.”

That first year, Musk’s children accounted for nearly two thirds of the student body. “It was really small,” remembers Dahn. “Especially when five [students] from the same family… go on vacation and you have three kids [left].”

It is not unusual for parents to have a grassroots effort to build their own school, according to Nancy Hertzog, an educational psychology professor at University of Washington and an expert in gifted education. “But money talks in terms of how that school is directed and supported,” she says. “The worry would be, are these schools preventing kids from other populations getting in? Are there strict test scores, and can they support kids with disabilities?”

A non-discrimination policy quietly published in the Los Angeles Times in 2016 stated that Ad Astra does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, but the document made no mention of disabilities.

Although Ad Astra now has dedicated classrooms and a chemistry lab at SpaceX, its start-up chic still includes whiteboard walls, a Mac laptop for every student, and food trucks for after-school sessions. These, like everything else at school including tuition, are paid for by Elon Musk. He gave Ad Astra $475,000 in both 2014 and 2015, according to the IRS document, and likely more in recent years as the school grew to 31 students.

“[Elon] is extraordinarily generous,” says Dahn. “And it allows us to take any kid that sort of fits… We don’t have unlimited resources but we have more resources than a traditional school.”


  1. Graham says:

    Sounds like the selection process for the future is well underway, and it resembles in many if not all ways the one used by Hugo Drax.

  2. Isegoria says:

    Hugo Drax got me to look up the origin of the car bomb, by the way. (Oh, and it looks like Moonraker is just $0.99 on Kindle right now.)

  3. Graham says:

    Wait a minute. Hugo Drax. Elon Musk. What is it about 4+4 names? At least Carl Stromberg liked fish and wanted to save them. Drax’s master plan. Sound level is low. Drax’s one, true, immortal moment- the greatest Bond villain dismissive remark ever made: “James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.”

    My fave car bomb scene begins at 1:39

    So many, many things wrong with the film version of The Sum of All Fears, and all the worse in retrospect, but this sequence is poetic. Plus, Nessun Dorma. I plan to use it as my own revenge music someday.

  4. Graham says:

    Went back and looked over that older piece. Educational.

    I’m not as comprehensively down on turn of the last century radicals as some folks. I’m with Chesterton and others in defending the ordered civilization and condemning the radicals’ worldviews, as I have been in comparable situations all my life and still am.

    But one needs to keep in mind that sooner or later anyone might find themselves alienated from dominant values. Or under foreign occupation, or some mix of the two.

    For that matter, those of us quite satisfied with the development of Western Civ up to a quite recent date might not find their earlier era all that hunky dory if we were transported back there. Where you stand depends on where you sit. [Graham Allison, in a different context.]

    I cited Battlestar Galactica in another thread. There was also that sequence where they had settled a crappy little planet and called it New Caprica, and came under Cylon occupation. Naturally, some collaborated to make it work and some became freedom fighters/terrorists under Colonel Tigh.

    Tigh eventually decided to use suicide bombers. This was intended to and did provoke debate in circa 2004 America, at least the Newsweek/Time America, about how Americans were being confronted with the “complexity” of the Iraq war by being made to sympathize with suicide bombing.

    My main reaction was that suicide bombing is a hell of a thing to take up when your species has been thrown to the demographic wall and has only a few tens of thousands of sacks of DNA walking around. That’s a moral dilemma even if the bombers are volunteers. Even blowing up the humans willing to be slaves to robots partakes of that same dilemma. Blowing up robots themselves, meh.

    Some SF fans are just desperate to find moral dilemmas and glom on to the most conventional interpretations of one they can find.

  5. Wolfe Easton, MD says:

    Really this sort of think goes to what we are really thinking about current day mainstream education. None of the widespread policy initiatives are particularly effective at “improving” really anything meaningful, criteria wise with regards to childhood importance.
    With all the parents believing their children are special, we have eroded even moreso any effort to screen out the gifted and accelerate them at a younger age.
    I look at something like Ad Astra, and I see rich families putting their kids through a real ringer and a real science experiment

  6. Graham says:

    At least these elites are ostensibly willing to put their kids to the test under a new approach, whatever it is, rather than just the tiresome rote of traditional elite preschool, elite prep school, buy your way into an Ivy credential. Come out with a Harvard Law degree and enter the parasite classes of the next generation, with the hope of making enough to graduate to predator.

    Alternatively, it’s just Musk’s answer to the Sea Org.

  7. Wang Wei Lin says:

    Stopped reading at the mention of Musk.

  8. CVLR says:

    Musk goes full vertical integration, decides to grow his own.

    There’s something profoundly perverse about the outcomes from intense competition for schooling. The striving terminally suffocates high-variance activities and their practitioners.

    If you want a really great school you need to somehow simultaneously a) have the most desirable thing going, b) it not be especially appealing to the strivers, and c) select for the classically educated and well bred at the expense of the abominable mandarins.

    I’ve no idea how to do this in the modern world, but I’d give my entire net worth to attend Dartmouth in 1956.

Leave a Reply