Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s science, making yesterday’s Tony Stark today’s Elon Musk. He’s the man with more groundbreaking ideas, innovative gadgets and heaps of money than time, and he thinks he’s a magician. A magician who couldn’t be happier about being alive during the 21st century.
In a March 26 interview with Forbes reporter Hannah Elliot, Musk described why he was so happy to be alive today. “If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic – being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. These are all things that would have been considered magic a few hundred years ago. So, engineering is, for all intents and purposes, magic, and who wouldn’t want to be a magician?”
Keeping with an ethereal personality, Musk, co-founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, served as inspiration for Robert Downy Jr.’s portrayal of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. His real life status as a billionaire playboy earned him the right. He’s paved the way for internet transactions to occur and continues innovation with attempts to completely overturn the existing transportation and fuel industries. His next steps include plans to expand our world by leaving. To say he’s just “shooting for the stars” is a gross understatement; the universe is his blank page. And when he began writing on it, he pushed to make sure he used Uncle Sam’s pen.
Musk was born June of 1978 in Pretoria, South Africa to a Canadian mother, a dietician, and South African father, who owned a construction engineering firm. He was one of three children and enjoyed the benefits of cousins living nearby. When he was six, Musk was invited to his cousin’s fifth birthday party across town, but was grounded by his parents. In one of his first bouts of hard-headed individualism, Musk walked for four hours, arriving just in time for the end of the party and for his mother, who was leaving with Musk’s brother and sister, to see the young Elon walking alone. He saw her as well, ran the rest of the way to his cousin’s house, climbed a tree and refused to come down.
At 12, he developed his first computer game. He was self-taught in the language of programming, and his creation “Blastar,” a space-themed video game, sold for $500.
“Whenever I’d read about cool technology, it would tend to be in the United States. I wanted to be where the cutting edge technology was.” – Elon Musk
At 17, Musk departed South Africa and ventured to North America to immerse himself in the entrepreneurial spirit and to avoid serving in the South Africa’s National Defense Force. At the time, the major duties of the military included enforcing the apartheid, which Musk did not support. Without his parent’s blessing or funding, he departed for Canada. His ultimate destination, though, was Silicon Valley, the place with the name that floated through his childhood and teenage years like “the name of a mythical place,” as he said in a Jan. 23 interview for “Fresh Dialogues” by Alison van Diggelen. “Whenever I’d read about cool technology,” Musk explained, “It would tend to be in the United States. I wanted to be where the cutting edge technology was.”
He transferred from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario to the University of Pennsylvania, where he lived off a dollar a day, stretching loaves of bread and hot dogs as long as humanly possible. He received his undergraduate degree in Business from the Wharton School and Physics from the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to continue his studies at Stanford, pursuing a Ph.D. in applied Physics. After two days, he dropped out and created his first successful website, Zip2. It was purchased for $307 million, cash, in 1999 by Compaq.
From there, he co-founded X.com, which acquired Confinity, the creator of PayPal, in 2000. The name PayPal won out over X.com. Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, came in 2002. Musk had realized that launching astronauts into orbit and landing humans on other planets could never occur if there was no growth in rocket technologies research, and in 2012 the SpaceX Dragon vehicle became the first commercial vehicle to successfully dock with the International Space Station.
A year after SpaceX came Tesla Motors, the company for which Musk has acquired the most public notoriety. The company has seen more growth than anticipated in the past two financial quarters, silencing naysayers at both Goldman Sachs and the NYSE alike. And now, in 2013, Musk is pushing to release yet another idea. The Hyperloop is a pneumatic tube which, Musk alleged on Aug. 12, can reach speeds of 800 mph and transport its passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a distance of nearly 380 miles, in less than 30 minutes.
Of course, his other projects are taking up the vast majority of his time, and Musk is unable to take any more steps toward making this Hyperloop a reality. As a result, the plans are open source, and he hopes that the other inventors and innovators in the world will not just build on, but build, this project.