Elon Musk was born on 28 June 1971 in South Africa. His father was an engineer and his mother an author and model, although Musk has said that his father was against technology and thought computers would never amount to anything. So, at the age of ten Musk bought his first computer and taught himself how to program, and when he turned 17 he left home to pursue his dreams.
He travelled to Canada where he studied at Queen’s University until
1992. He then left Canada and took up business and physics at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. By the time he was on his way to
Silicon Valley in California in his mid-twenties, he had two degrees in physics and one in business. It was at this point that he decided on three areas that he wanted to get into: the internet, clean energy and space.
In 1995, after spending just two days on a graduate programme in applied physics and materials science at Stanford University he founded the online publishing software company
Zip2 with his brother, Kimbal. In
1999, they sold Zip2 for over $300m
(£190m), and Musk went on to found
X.com, an online payment company that would later become PayPal. In
2002, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5bn
(£970m) in stock.
With his first goal complete,
Musk moved on to clean energy. He founded the company Tesla Motors in 2003. The company specialises in electric cars, with Musk’s goal being to create affordable mass-market electric vehicles. In 2006, he unveiled the Tesla Roadster, an all-electric sports car. In June 2012, the Tesla
Model S was launched, a full-sized electric four-door sedan, with the greatest range of any electric car on the market on a single charge.
Arguably Musk’s greatest achievement, however, has been
SpaceX. As early as 2001 Musk had plans for a ‘Mars Oasis’ project that would land an experimental greenhouse on Mars but, when he realised rocket technology needed to be advanced for such a goal to be achieved, he founded SpaceX in June
2002, pumping $100m (£64m) of his own money into the company. The ultimate goal of SpaceX is to reduce the cost of going to space and to take humans to new frontiers, specifically landing people on Mars in the next
In a sense Musk has been fortunate that, around the time SpaceX was founded, NASA shifted its focus to the commercialisation of space exploration. SpaceX has received contracts from NASA totalling several billion dollars, and also millions of dollars in funding from elsewhere.
After the Dragon capsule was docked with the ISS in May 2012, SpaceX was valued at $2.4bn (£1.5bn). Tying in with Musk’s clean energy objective, one of SpaceX’s goals is to build and operate a fully reusable rocket that can lift off and return to its launchpad fully intact, bringing the price of taking cargo to orbit down to $1,100 per kilogram ($500 per pound).
Instrumental to SpaceX’s success will be the continued involvement and vision of Musk himself.
In 2010, Time magazine listed
Musk as one of the most important people who had affected the world.
He’s received numerous awards including the FAI Gold Space Medal and the National Space Society’s Von
Braun Trophy. In a Space Foundation survey in 2010 Musk was ranked as the tenth most popular space hero.
He will continue to revolutionise the private space market, often in the face of criticism of his ambitions, for many years to come.