Elon Musk CEO and CTO, SpaceX & Tesla Motors

We need to figure out how to have the things we love, and not destroy the world...

He hopes to send humans to the surface of the moon in about 10 - 20 years from now. He says his goal is to reduce the cost of human spaceflight by ten times, and improve reliability. His personal goal is to eventually enable human exploration and settlement of Mars; because, per him, sooner or later, we must expand life beyond planet earth if we don't want to go extinct. He is none other than the current CEO & CTO of space exploration company SpaceX, Elon Musk. With a series of innovations -- all close to his heart and which he was not only passionate about but had predicted their impact so very accurately— turning everything he touched into gold in Midas-like fashion, Musk definitely ranks amongst one of the most progressive thinkers that one can look to emulate.


Musk was born in 1971 in Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, to a Canadian mother and a South African father. He had his schooling from the Bryanston High School and the Pretoria Boys High School. It is said that Musk was so bright a child that he was able to teach himself how to write a program, after having given a computer, at the age of just 10 years.

The Spark

His father, an engineer himself, inspired Musk's love for technology, and bought him a computer. The fact that he was able to learn computer programming and, better still, able to develop a commercial software (a space game called Blaster) that he sold for $500, reflect the spark of the visionary, entrepreneur and technical genius that Musk went on to prove himself as in later years.

Realizing his potential, all by himself, Musk immigrated to Canada in 1988 at the age of 17 years to pursue his higher education as also to make a career out of it. He attended the Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario, for two years. There was another aspect that led him to seek a life in the west. It was the compulsory service in the South African military that he didn't like - primarily because of the rampant discrimination against black people and their suppression.

Thus he went, eventually, to the U.S. -the land where he strongly believed great things are possible. He completed his undergraduate degree in business from the Wharton School and a bachelor's degree in Physics from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Arts & Sciences, after having earned a scholarship. He followed it up with a move to California to do a Ph.D. in Applied Physics and Materials Science at Stanford, which he did not complete. He was itching to get involved with the three things that were close to his heart - the internet, clean energy, and space - all of which hinged on his lifelong passion for science & engineering (and space).

So, just days after getting into Stanford, he decided to pull the curtain down on his Ph.D., and started a technology company with the help of his brother, Kimbal Musk. The company was called Zip2, which provided online content publishing software to news organizations. And, in a mere 4 years, Musk had created so much value through Zip2 that it was bought by Alta Vista, one of the pioneers of the internet search industry, for a reported sum of $340 millions (cash & stock).

The same spark with which he had created Zip2 and made a success out of it, Musk set about yet another path-breaking innovation in the very same year that he sold Zip2.

Journey So Far

In March 1999, Musk co-founded an online financial services and e-mail payment company called X.com. X.com pioneered online point-of-sale functionality for purchases and quickly became one of the Web's leading financial institutions. To complement this strength, he architected the acquisition (50:50 merger) of a company called Confinity, in 2000. Confinity was almost the same size as X.com and operated an auction payment system called PayPal.

Thus coupled with twin competencies, the new entity called as, PayPal went on to become the leading global payment transfer provider for millions of people. It was the simplest and most hassle-free online payment platforms that the world relied on. As it complied with regulatory norms of each respective country it served, it was a hit with both the governments as well as the banks involved, thereby increasing its endorsement immensely. Musk was instrumental even in spreading the reach of PayPal as he designed a very successful viral campaign. He served as its Chairman & Chief Product Officer, and was it largest share-holder until eBay bought it (in 2001) for a reported sum of $ 1.5 billion. The very next year i.e. 2002, Musk founded SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) by putting in $100 million of his early fortune, to focus on advancing the state of rocket technology. It develops and manufactures space launch vehicles & spacecraft. Falcon1 and Falcon9 were its two launch vehicles. In fact, Falcon1 was the first privately developed liquid fuel rocket to reach Earth's orbit.

SpaceX continued to invested heavily in space research and consolidate its position as a pioneering company that had the trust of the U.S. government too. Its first spacecraft, Dragon, was the first commercial vehicle in history to successfully attach to the International Space Station on May 25th, 2012. That besides, the fact that NASA awarded SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract for 12 cargo flights to and from the International Space Station, effectively replacing the Space Shuttle, is testimony to the goodwill and confidence Musk has been able to build for the company. SpaceX also became the first commercial company to successfully recover a spacecraft from Earth's orbit -a feat previously only achieved by a few nations.

Next came the turn of giving flight to his affinity for clean energy. Taking inspiration from Nikola Tesla - after whom the company is named, he co-founded Tesla Motors in 2003. It builds high-end luxury electric vehicles. Tesla Roadster, its first electric sports-car, is believed to be using an AC motor descended directly from Nikola Tesla's original 1882 design. It is reported that the company has so far shipped over 2,300 vehicles to 31 countries.

Musk made sure that in the madness to make money, the ultimate objective of promoting clean energy is not lost sight of. For that, he initiated a three-pronged strategy, which although might appear like monopolistic, is bound to bring in great relief for the global environment.

The strategy Tesla adopted was:

»     Selling its own vehicles in a growing number of company-owned showrooms and online
»     Selling patented electric power-train components to other automakers so that they may get their own EVs to customers sooner
»     Serving as a catalyst and positive example to other automakers, demonstrating that there is pent-up consumer demand for vehicles that are both high-performance and efficient.

He is also the primary investor and Chairman of the Board of SolarCity, a photo-voltaics products and services company that he founded.

Obviously, as we can see, the underlying motivation for founding both companies is to help combat global warming.


His passion for science, engineering, and space stems from his constant yearning for the betterment and sustainability of human life. While he has very astutely shaped his passion into a very successful entrepreneurship, credit must also be given to him for always keeping the interest of the society in mind -even in his business decisions. Accordingly, he created the Musk Foundation, of which he is the current chairman. The Foundation focuses on aerospace, clean energy, science education and pediatric health. It has donated solar power projects to Soma, Japan - a city devastated by both earthquake and tsunami - and to a hurricane response center in coastal Alabama operated by victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Oil Spill. Facilitated by SolarCity, these projects bring the much-needed low-cost, clean power to both regions.

Musk is a also the trustee of the X Prize Foundation, which promotes renewable energy technologies, and sits on the boards of The Space Foundation, The National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and The Planetary Society. He is also a member of the Stanford University Engineering Advisory Council and the board of trustees of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Awards & Accolades

Gold Space Medal for designing the first privately developed rocket to reach orbit, by the world governing body for aerospace records, Federation Aeronautique Internationale

Living Legend in Aviation for creating the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, by The Kitty Hawk Foundation

Aviation Week named him its 2008 Laureate for his significant global achievements in the space industry

Received the Heinlein Prize for his contributions to the commercialization of space

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics award for the greatest contribution to the field of space transportation

The National Space Society Von Braun Trophy for the most significant achievement in space

Included in Time Magazine's 2010 TIME 100 list of 100 people who most affected the world

Esquire Magazine named him one its 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century

Named as one of America's 20 Most Powerful CEOs 40 and Under, by Forbes Magazine

Innovator of the Year by Research & Development magazine for his work at Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity

Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine, again for his work at Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity


"An asteroid or a super volcano could destroy us, and we face risks the dinosaurs never saw: An engineered virus, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, catastrophic global warming or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us. Humankind evolved over millions of years, but in the last sixty years atomic weaponry created the potential to extinguish ourselves. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct."

"I don't have an issue with serving in the military per se, but serving in the South African army suppressing black people just didn't seem like a really good way to spend time".

"We have planes, trains, automobiles and boats," ... "What if there was a fifth mode?."

"I would like to die on Mars; just not on impact."

"We need to figure out how to have the things we love, and not destroy the world."